Larger Supreme Court bench to hear pleas against govt workers’ sacking

Published November 30, 2021
A file photo of the Supreme Court building in Islamabad. — AFP
A file photo of the Supreme Court building in Islamabad. — AFP

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday decided to constitute a larger bench — bigger than the current three-judge bench — to hear a set of petitions seeking review of its Aug 17 judgement, which had rendered almost 17,000 government employees jobless.

“In view of the questions raised in the matter, it would be appropriate that a larger bench is constituted to hear the review petitions,” observed Justice Umar Ata Bandial, while dictating the order after a brief hearing on the review petitions. The court will take up the matter again on Wednesday.

The court also dropped hints to appoint an amicus curiae (friend of the court) to assist it in the matter since apparently no one appears to represent the other side or support the judgement of the Supreme Court.

Moreover, the restraining order issued on Nov 11 prohibiting the government from evicting the employees from official residences they were living in till the pendency of the review petition will continue to remain in force.

Appointment of amicus curiae likely

Senior counsel Raza Rabbani, representing officers of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), suggested that the last interim order continue until the matter was decided.

The court is seized with a number of review petitions, mainly from the federal government, seeking review of the Aug 17 judgement of the Supreme Court.

On the eve of his retirement, Justice Mushir Alam had on Aug 17 declared as illegal and unconstitutional a PPP-era law called the Sacked Employees (Reinstatement) Ordinance Act, 2010, (SERA) under which a number of people were employed or promoted in 1989-90.

The court, however, asked the counsel representing a number of petitioners to furnish concise statements also clarifying that the review proceedings had a limited scope and did not mean rehearing of the entire controversy.

During the hearing, Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed, while pointing towards Additional Attorney General (AAG) Sajid Ilyas Bhatti, reminded that the federal government had earlier opposed the legislation called SERA.

The court also asked the AAG to classify all categories of employees highlighting which departments they belonged to and whether they were employees of autonomous bodies, semi-autonomous or civil servants.

As usual a large number of affected employees were present outside the Supreme Court when it took up the matter for hearing.

The federal government, being represented through Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan, had stated before the Supreme Court that though it had declared SERA illegal despite the fact that the act had been passed by the parliament, no notice had been issued to a large number of employees who were direct beneficiaries of the act, but lost or would lose their jobs immediately without any opportunity of being heard by the top court.

The petition recalled that though a notice to the AGP had been given by the court in 2010, no formal notice had been issued and served to the AGP in terms of the required mandatory rules.

At the last hearing on Nov 11, the SC had issued notice to the AGP under Order 27A Rule 1 of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC) in addition to notices given to 16,000 employees without being heard by the court Though the government fully supports the principle of transparency, merit and due process in the public employment, the petition contended, the erstwhile sacked employees falling and benefiting under the SERA may not be rendered completely jobless merely owing to deficiencies and, therefore, their rights and interests should be protected in a manner that did not harm other employees.

The petition highlighted the need for adopting a more equitable approach to balance the rights and interests of all parties on a more transparent and merit-based criteria.

Accordingly, material provisions of SERA redressing injustices meted out to an overwhelming number of erstwhile sacked employees resulting from their earlier arbitrary terminations could have been avoided rather than outright annulment of the entire SERA, the petition pleaded.

The petition explained that the act was neither meant for nor applied to those civil servants whose service was governed under the provisions of the Civil Servants Act, 1973, and the rules framed thereunder.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2021

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