Supreme Court again raises questions over recruitment of paralegal staff

Published December 3, 2021
A view of the Supreme Court building in Islamabad. — AFP/File
A view of the Supreme Court building in Islamabad. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court asked the registrar of the Sindh High Court on Thursday to convince it that the SHC was the competent authority for the appointment of almost 1,200 paralegal staff over the past four years and that it did not extend any favours by relaxing the service rules.

A three-judge bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, asked Abdul Razzaq, the SHC registrar, to compile data (by Dec 10, the next date of hearing) explaining whether the test for senior positions in the district judiciary was carried out in a proper manner and under what criteria the age and domicile requirements were relaxed.

The apex court made the observations after taking up a petition by Ghulam Sarwar Qureshi which had sought a declaration that all appointments made in the Sindh judiciary since 2017, including those of civil judges and additional district judges, were ab initio mala fide, illegal, unconstitutional and had no legal effect.

Advocate Khawaja Shamsul Islam represented the petitioner.

Asks SHC registrar to clear its doubts

The apex court was perturbed over the fact that the requirement of domicile was relaxed in favour of 14 stenographers, out of 19 appointed, in Karachi West district. The picture in Karachi East was no different as out of 16 stenographers appointed, the domicile requirement was relaxed to favour 11 candidates while the age requirement was relaxed for six others.

Moreover, no test was carried out to test the skills of stenographers selected for appointment, the Supreme Court regretted.

Abdul Razzaq, the registrar, told the bench that the domicile and age criteria were relaxed under Section 14 of the Sindh Judicial Service Rules.

Justice Bandial observed that the age requirement was relaxed usually when there was a pressing need to do so, but regretted that in the case under review the entire testing system seems to be flawed and that pick and choose was rife. In one instance, Justice Bandial added, a graduate was appointed to the post of “Farash”, a low cadre position.

At the last hearing on Nov 22, the apex court had noted a preliminary review revealed that for the post of clerks in the Sindh judiciary, the age limit was relaxed by five years and six months. As another example, Justice Bandial said six of the selected persons appeared to be related to Zulfikar Sheikh, who in turn is a close relative of the SHC chief justice.

The registrar conceded in his report that out of a total of 1,184 paralegal posts, 606 were filled through entry tests while 578 positions were filled without entry test. However, he added, most of them were in Grade 1-16.

The report, which was compiled after getting feedback and information from the district and sessions judges across the province, also conceded that only 978 jobs were advertised whereas 206 were not advertised.

Marks were assigned only for entry tests conducted through the National Testing Service (NTS) or the Sukkur Institute of Business Administration (IBA). The minimum passing marks varied from 33 per cent to 55pc in different districts.

In all 33,712 candidates were interviewed for 1,184 positions.

Candidates were required to pass an entry test before being eligible for interview. But no weightage system or marks were awarded in the interview.

A total of 48 candidates were given relaxation in the domicile condition while 248 applicants got age relaxation.

The report explained that district judges had been advised through a letter last month that the advertisements inviting applications for the post of stenographer should make it clear that if a candidate does not fulfil the domicile criterion, the SHC chief justice would be the final authority to decide whether to relax the condition or not.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2021

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