Lawyers question suspension of single bench proceedings by LHC CJ

Published November 29, 2021
A file photo of the Lahore High Court. — AFP/File
A file photo of the Lahore High Court. — AFP/File

LAHORE: In an interim order, which lawyers deem “unprecedented” and “beyond the rules”, the Lahore High Court chief justice has suspended the proceedings pending before another single bench at the Bahawalpur seat.

Senior Court Associate (BS-19) Muhammad Akmal Khan, who is often dubbed as a whistleblower, filed a writ petition at the Bahawalpur bench, challenging a final show-cause notice for removal from service, issued to him by the registrar. Mr Khan was posted at the regional bench when he filed the petition.

However, he was suspended and ordered to report at the principal seat in Lahore after Justice Anwarul Haq Pannu issued notice to the registrar office on his petition for Nov 24.

On the next date of hearing, Justice Pannu was informed by an additional registrar (judicial) that the proceedings before him had been suspended by the chief justice hearing a petition at the principal seat the same day.

Therefore, the judge adjourned the hearing for a date to be fixed by the office. The civil miscellaneous application taken up by the chief justice had a title “Lahore High Court through its registrar versus Muhammad Akmal Khan and others”.

The registrar requested the CJ to transfer the matter from Bahawalpur bench to the principal seat, citing great hardship of travelling for the respondent authorities of the LHC.

Chief Justice Muhammad Ameer Bhatti issued a notice to Mr Khan on the registrar’s application for Nov 30 and also stayed the proceedings pending at the Bahawalpur bench.

Talking to Dawn, Lahore High Court Bar Association’s president Maqsood Buttar said the chief justice and all the other judges of a high court enjoyed equal jurisdiction on the judicial side.

He said no single bench could suspend any proceedings pending before another single bench, adding it was unprecedented and against the rules of the high court.

Advocate Usama Khawar Ghumman said a chief justice of a high court was just primus inter pares (first among the equals). He did not carry more judicial authority than the junior most judge in the high court, he added.

He said there was no legal justification in staying the judicial proceedings pending before another single bench.

Mr Ghumman also stated the proceedings being conducted by the chief justice at the principal seat appeared to be administrative while the proceedings at the Bahawalpur were judicial in nature.

Constitutionally, administrative proceedings could not override judicial proceedings, he added.

The lawyer was of the opinion that more transparency and cautiousness was required to deal with the internal matters of the judiciary as the courts were the last resort for people to get justice.

He said in the past the Islamabad High Court was also hit by a controversy of illegal appointments and promotions and there was a Supreme Court judgment in the matter.

Advocate Zawar Ahmad Sheikh, who represented the LHC registrar, refused to make any comment on the proceedings suspended by the chief justice, saying as the matter was still sub-judice, he would not speak on it.

The final show-cause notice issued to Akmal Khan carries no allegation of any malpractice, but accuses him of filing a plethora of applications showing his anti-authority, anti-institutional and anti-establishment campaign. He is also accused of willful disobedience.

Mr Khan was denied certified copies of the charges on the pretext that each and every charge had been taken from his repeated applications of misconduct. The office has already submitted an interim reply to the show-cause notice questioning its legality.

A writ petition filed by Mr Khan in 2017 against out-of-turn promotions in the LHC is still pending with the court.

A former chief justice had admitted this petition for regular hearing and directed the registrar to submit a list of employees benefited under rule 26 of the high court establishment rules, in any manner, including employment, deputation, promotion or post upgrade.

An internal audit was also ordered by then chief justice on a complaint of Mr Khan alleging embezzlement in the LHC employee’s welfare fund.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2021

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