ISLAMABAD: Two senior judges of the Supreme Court — Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Yahya Afridi — on Tuesday took exception to the sudden change in the composition of their bench, as well as the cases fixed before it, and summoned SC Registrar Isharat Ali to explain who determines the roster of cases placed before the benches.

“If benches are changed arbitrarily and without reason, it would create doubts in the minds of [the] litigant[s],” Justice Isa observed while dictating an order. He also refused to hear the cases placed before the reconstituted bench and questioned whether Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial enjoyed absolute discretion in the constitution of benches and fixing of cases.

It transpired that Justice Yahya Afridi was scheduled to head a bench with Justice Hasan Azhar Rizvi, but the roster was changed and a fresh bench was constituted, consisting of Justice Isa and Justice Afridi. Whereas Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi — a junior judge to Justice Afridi, was made presiding judge of a bench also consisting of Justice Hasan Azhar Rizvi.

Consequently, Justice Isa summoned the registrar, who failed to satisfy the two judges on the procedure of fixation of cases, conceding that benches were formed on the direction of the CJP’s staff officer.

The court also summoned a report regarding recommendation of the cases before the benches, but postponed further proceedings, adding that a cursory look at the pendency showed that 56,285 cases were pending before the court.

Surprisingly, however, the roster issued for Wednesday (today) by the court office did not mention any bench presided over by Justice Isa, though Justice Afridi will head a three judge bench.

Justice Isa also emphasised that it was the people who knocked at the door of the Supreme Court adding that while they were hearing cases pertaining to the year 2022, the pendency list showed cases that had been lingering since 1999.

Most importantly, he observed, the administration of justice should seem to be done, adding that the amended Article 10A of the Constitution also mandated due process in the dispensing of justice.

The bench also emphasized that the registrar should ensure transparency in the fixation of the cases before the benches.

We have noted that benches are changed arbitrarily, and if the benches are changed in this fashion without any reason, it gives rise to unnecessary doubts among the minds of the litigants and thus undermines the integrity of the judiciary and invites criticism, the judge observed.

Since the registrar has not offered any reasons or justification for the change of the bench, therefore it was not appropriate to hear the cases fixed before the bench, the order stated.

Justice Isa observed that he was a judge of the Supreme Court and, before this, had been chief justice of Balochistan High Court for five years. How could there be transparency if the registrar transfers cases from one bench to another without any reason, he regretted.

“It seems [the] registrar is more powerful than a judge,” Justice Isa observed, adding he was not able to hear the cases that were still pending from 2010 because fresh cases were fixed for hearing by the registrar.

Justice Isa also regretted that CJP did not respond to his letter, in which he had requested to cancel cases fixed before the Karachi registry, since his presence may be needed if a full court was constituted to hear the election date case.

In his order, Justice Isa mentioned that when the registrar was asked why he considered necessary to put up the proposal to reconstitute his bench, the official had replied that it was done on the orders of CJP.

Justice Isa, however, said that under the rules, the authority in this regard is vested with the registrar and regretted that “justice would be murdered” if he asked the registrar to fix the case of his brother before him.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2023

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