ISLAMABAD: Justice Qazi Faez Isa has said that people have every right to know how the administration of justice is undertaken.

“We must not be unmindful of the fact that the judiciary was established for one and only one purpose; to decide cases, which it must do efficiently, fairly and transparently,” he said.

The observations came in a nine-page judgement released on Wednesday on the issue of sudden change of benches and fixation of cases.

Justice Isa regretted that the arbitrary change of benches for no justifiable reason created doubts encouraging the general public to raise questions on the fairness of a system that arbitrarily favours certain citizens over others.

Detailed verdict issued on reconstitution of benches, fixation of cases

The Constitution mandates that the independence of judiciary shall be fully secured, but if Registrar of the Supreme Court, a judge or even the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) selects particular cases for early hearing, without following predetermined, reasonable and fair criteria with regard to fixation of cases, then the principle of the independence of judiciary may be undermined, the judgement said.

Justice Isa was heading a two-judge bench which included Justice Yayha Afridi who in his note said he respects the views of Justice Isa.

Article 19A of the constitution gives the people the right to access to information in all matters of public importance, Justice Isa said. “This is a fundamental right; transparency is concomitant with accountability,” he emphasised.

“Since there was no reason for the sudden change of benches and a judge junior to Justice Yahya Afridi was preferred over him to head a bench, it became imperative for us to address this matter which has assumed criticality.

“To those whose cases were listed for hearing on Feb 28, but could not be heard, we apologise,” Justice Isa observed, adding that maintenance of the rule of law, transparency and fairness in the constitution of benches and fixation of cases must be established to retain the independence, integrity and prestige of this court.

To ascertain the reason for the abrupt reconstitution of benches, Registrar Ishrat Ali was sent for and asked to bring the relevant record. He was asked the rationale necessitating these changes who stated that the CJP through his Staff Officer had communicated that the benches be changed and that Registrar should prepare a note to this effect.

Justice Isa recalled Order XI that deals with ‘constitution of benches’ and stipulates that every case shall be heard by judges to be nominated by the CJP and enables the latter to refer any case to a larger bench and if in any case the judges were equally divided in opinion then to place the case for hearing ‘either before another judge or before a larger bench to be nominated by CJP’. The rules do not grant any power to the Registrar or to CJP to change the judge or judges on a bench or to reduce their number.

Justice Isa recalled the Supreme Court had earlier held that arbitrarily reconstituted benches ‘undermines the integrity of the system, and may have serious repercussions while another member of the bench in the same case held that a bench, once constituted and is seized with a matter on the judicial side, cannot be reconstituted by the CJP in exercise of his administrative powers, unless a member(s) of the bench recuses.

Justice Isa recalled how different ben­c­hes of the Supreme Court and its judges had from time to time highlighted and called for structuring the CJP’s discretion.

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2023

Opinion

Rule by law

Rule by law

‘The rule of law’ is being weaponised, taking on whatever meaning that fits the political objectives of those invoking it.

Editorial

Isfahan strikes
Updated 20 Apr, 2024

Isfahan strikes

True de-escalation means Israel must start behaving like a normal state, not a rogue nation that threatens the entire region.
President’s speech
20 Apr, 2024

President’s speech

PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari seems to have managed to hit all the right notes in his address to the joint sitting of...
Karachi terror
20 Apr, 2024

Karachi terror

IS urban terrorism returning to Karachi? Yesterday’s deplorable suicide bombing attack on a van carrying five...
X post facto
Updated 19 Apr, 2024

X post facto

Our decision-makers should realise the harm they are causing.
Insufficient inquiry
19 Apr, 2024

Insufficient inquiry

UNLESS the state is honest about the mistakes its functionaries have made, we will be doomed to repeat our follies....
Melting glaciers
19 Apr, 2024

Melting glaciers

AFTER several rain-related deaths in KP in recent days, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority has sprung into...