ISLAMABAD: Justice Qazi Faez Isa, the senior puisine judge of the Supreme Court, on Wednesday questioned the constitution of a special bench despite availability of regular benches, saying that such benches hearing cases of sensitive nature give rise to misgivings among people.

“From where the concept of special benches has crept in,” wondered Justice Isa who was heading a three-judge special bench also comprising Justice Aminuddin Khan and Justice Shahid Waheed.

Before the special bench was a question pertaining to a 2018 regulation of the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) suggesting award of 20 additional marks to candidates for memorising the Holy Quran by heart to get MBBS or BDS degrees.

Representing PDMC, Advo­cate Afnan Kundi explained the council was not implementing the 2018 regulation of awarding 20 marks to candidates, as the regulation was not in the field.

Justice Isa not only questioned the concept of special benches but also censured a directive issued by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to satellite TV channels to stop slanderous campaign or content against state institutions and judges.

SC judge terms Pemra order on criticism of judges ‘attempt to malign judiciary’

While pointing towards Attorney General for Pakistan Shehzad Ata Elahi, Justice Isa asked whether the Supreme Court Rules 1980 permit special benches.

The AGP, who was apparently caught off guard, could only say he would assist the court if a notice was issued. When the same question was put to Advocate Afnan Kundi representing PMDC, he said he would have to look at court practice.

“The next time martial law is clamped, will you say we have to look at the practice and conventions of the court,” Justice Isa remarked, adding “we have to uphold the constitution at all cost”.

All the three judges were part of different three-member benches, but had to assemble at the special bench to hear a case that could be fixed before any of the regular benches, he said, adding that it was understandable if the special bench was set up on a holiday but this was not the case. He noted that the SC registrar had ‘already killed the case’ by fixing the matter after 14-month delay, leaving people to point fingers at the judiciary.

Judges would never want allegations being levelled at the judiciary in talk shows, but Article 19 allows freedom of expression, he said.

When his attention was drawn towards the Pemra directives asking TV channels to refrain from criticising state institutions and judges, he said Pemra “reduced our status from the constitutional body to the state institution”.

By issuing such gag orders, Pemra was discrediting and destroying the mainstream media, which was already under regulations, to the advantage of social media, Justice Isa noted.

Why the conduct of the judge should not be discussed if a judge had done something wrong and how one could stifle the media, he wondered. Rather such a move was an attempt to ‘malign’ the judiciary, as people might believe the restriction was clamped at the behest of the judiciary and that something was fishy, he added.

The court asked Advocate Malik Naeem Iqbal, who earlier was appointed amicus curiae, to furnish a concise statement on the PMDC matter.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2023

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