• Says decision in paralegal staff case a must before consideration of Justice Ahmed Ali for appointment
• SHC, Karachi bars demand action against PBC vice chairman for abusing his position of trust

ISLAMABAD: Soon after being elected Pakistan Bar Council’s (PBC) vice chairman, Hafeez-ur-Rehman Chaudhry on Friday opposed any move to elevate the Sindh High Court chief justice to the Supreme Court until a case about alleged irregular appointment of paralegal staff in the high court is decided.

In a statement issued soon after the elections, the new PBC vice chairman said SHC Chief Justice Ahmed Ali M. Shaikh should not be considered for elevation to the apex court until the pending case as well as references under Article 209 of the Constitution against him were finalised.

Mr Chaudhry said the principle of seniority for elevation of judges, supremacy of the Constitution, rule of law and independence of the judiciary should be followed, but it did not mean a judge facing charges of misconduct or poor performance, specifically the SHC chief justice, who through his registrar faced the serious allegations of appointments of paralegal staff, in certain districts under his supervision, by way of Article 203 of the Constitution be elevated.

The statement by the newly elected PBC vice chairman, however, drew criticism from the Sindh High Court Bar Association (SHCBA) and Karachi Bar Association (KBA) which in a joint resolution demanded that the bar council reprimand him for ‘abusing his position’ and issuing an ‘unauthorised’ press release.

Recently a three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, had regretted what it called SHC’s failure to perform its constitutional duty of supervising subordinate courts under it, especially in monitoring the appointment process of paralegal staff. The plea of consistency with past practice was of no advantage because irregularities in the appointment process could not be justified by invoking the neglect by the previous administrations, the court had observed.

The SC had also constituted a committee to furnish a report on the fairness and transparency of the appointment process of staff in district judiciary and the types and extent of the departure from the requirements of the applicable rules, including the Sindh Judicial Staff Service Rules, 1992.

The directives had come on a petition by Ghulam Sarwar Qureshi moved through his counsel Advocate Khawaja Shamsul Islam, seeking a declaration from the apex court that all the appointments made in the Sindh judiciary, civil judges and additional district judges in the lower judiciary from 2017 till date were ab initio, mala fide, illegal, unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void having no legal effect.

Also, Mr Chaudhry demanded that all pending references, filed before the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) against different superior court judges, be expeditiously decided on merit.

He regretted that the acting SHC chief justice was condemnable, whereby on Jan 4, 2020, he allegedly accommodated a senior counsel from Karachi by sanctioning encashment for leave of six months (180 days) and his date of retirement was re-fixed with effect from Dec 17, 2009, though he had retired in 2000 and after retirement he continued his legal practice in the SHC for over 20 years.

The election for PBC vice chairman was held during the 236th meeting of the bar council in Islamabad, with Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan in the chair. Mr Chaudhry, a professional lawyer from Lahore, had earlier served as PBC executive committee chairman in 2017 and later elected the Lahore High Court Bar Association president in 2018.

Joint resolution

In a joint resolution, the SHCBA and KBA called upon the PBC to “reprimand its vice chairman for abusing his position of trust and for issuing an unauthorised press release”.

According to a press release issued here on Friday, the SHCBA and KBA in a meeting took serious notice of the PBC vice chairman’s press release and “impromptu outburst made by the chairman of the executive committee of the PBC against honourable Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court”.

“This Association is of the firm opinion that the appointments made by the present chief justice of the Sindh High Court have been made exactly in accordance with the same procedure adopted by earlier chief justices [including those who are presently part of the Supreme Court],” it said.

“This Association has taken a principled stand against the vilification campaign against Mr Justice Qazi Faez Isa and this Association shall continue to stand by such independent-minded Justices. Mr Justice Ahmed Ali Sheikh is yet another independent-minded justice and his integrity is unimpeachable,” it added.

After the election, the PBC also approved the decisions of its legal education committee that passing marks for Law Graduates Assessment Test (Law-GAT) were reduced from 50 per cent to 45pc.

Passing marks for Law-GAT reduced

It was decided that SEE-LAW (Special Equivalence Examination for Law graduates of foreign varsities) — a prerequisite conversion course, besides LAW-GAT, for getting enrolled as a lawyer in Pakistan — be abandoned since it practically amounted to overburdening the graduates of foreign law degrees and wastage of time and money. Now after the decision, lawyers with foreign degree would have to pass only LAW-GAT. The PBC also decided that LLB-degree holders having 15 years of experience should be considered eligible for appointment as head of law department in a law college/university.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2022



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