ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court summoned the Sindh High Court’s (SHC) registrar on Monday to explain how many posts of para-legal staff had been filled since 2017 by relaxing the rules.
“It appears that the appointment of para-legal staff was carried out without strict adherence to the appointment rules (Sindh Judicial Service Rules),” observed Justice Umar Ata Bandial, who headed a three-judge bench.
The bench had taken up a petition moved by Ghulam Sarwar Qureshi through his counsel, Khawaja Shamsul Islam. The petitioner sought a declaration from the apex court that all appointments made in the Sindh High Court since 2017, including those of civil judges and additional district judges in lower courts across the province, were ab initio illegal, unconstitutional and had no legal effect.
The Supreme Court ordered Abdul Razzak, the SHC registrar, to appear before it on Dec 2 with record detailing the appointment of para-legal staff since 2017.
The registrar was also asked to specify the number of posts filled under different processes and also identify the sanctioning authorities.
The apex court expressed surprise that it was provided a copy of a report prepared by the SHC registrar about the allegations levelled by the petitioner under a sealed cover, but no copy was provided to the petitioner’s counsel.
The bench said the report needed to be read carefully because even a cursory glance suggested that the appointment of para-legal staff was undertaken by relaxing rules. The condition of domicile was relaxed in some cases on the request of the district judges concerned.
The court noted that the letters written by different district judges seeking relaxation of rules were verbatim copies and carried the same date in July 2017.
An initial review further revealed that for the post of clerks in the high court, the age limit was relaxed by as many as five years and six months. In one case six persons appeared to be related to Zulfikar Sheikh – a relative of the incumbent Chief Justice of the SHC, the order said.
In another case, the age limit was relaxed by 12 years for Mohammad Afzal for the job of bailiff, the order said. It was alleged during the hearing that the individual was related to “decision-makers”.
“The registrar is required to answer the allegations raised in the petition,” the court said. It appears that nine stenographers were appointed in Karachi-West and only one of them hailed from that city, the bench observed.
Moreover, six junior clerks were appointed after easing the age limit _ in one case the limit was relaxed by four years and six months.
About the appointment of judicial officers under the administrative control of Sindh High Court, the Supreme Court observed that in this case the selection criterion was followed strictly, recalling that 49 out of 826 candidates were picked after the first test and after further scrutiny only four were shortlisted. Only one of them was finally selected.
In the petition a directive was sought for the constitution of a joint investigation committee (JIT) to scrutinise the record of appointments made in the Sindh High Court as well as in the province’s lower judiciary.
After the JIT report, the petitioner added, directives should be given to initiate an inquiry against the registrar, the SHC chief justice and all the district judges for alleged violation of rules.
The petition had also sought a directive that the registrar, the chief justice and the law ministry of Sindh produce the entire record of appointments in the SHC from 2017 till date.
The apex court should order the authorities concerned to denotify all such appointments, the petitioner pleaded.
Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2021