ISLAMABAD: Justice Qazi Faez Isa, the most senior judge after the chief justice of Pakistan, is set to become the country’s top judge in three months after President Dr Arif Alvi approved his appointment on Wednesday.

Justice Isa will don the robes as the 29th chief justice on Sept 17, a day after the incumbent, Justice Umar Ata Bandial, retires after turning 65.

At the time of retirement, Justice Bandial will have served the top judicial office for over 19 months; he was appointed on Feb 2, 2022, though his notification had been issued on Jan 17.

In contrast, Justice Isa will serve as chief justice for over a year, until Oct 25, 2024. He took the oath as a Supreme Court judge on Sept 5, 2014.

Earlier, in May 2019, President Alvi filed a misconduct reference against Justice Isa in the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) — a body of judges empowered under Arti­cle 209 of the Constitution to hear cases of misconduct against judges.

However, a 10-judge Supreme Court bench — headed by Justice Bandial — later struck down the presidential reference in June 2020, washing away the stigma of misconduct against Justice Isa for allegedly not declaring three offshore properties in the name of his wife and children.

Consequently, the proceedings pending in the SJC, including a July 2019 show-cause notice, stand abated. However, the apex court then ordered the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to conduct an inquiry into the allegations of non-declaration of foreign assets.

Later in a dramatic twist, the Supreme Court in April 2021, by a majority of six to four, overturned its June 2020 order that required verification and subsequent findings by the tax authorities on three foreign properties after accepting his review petition.

After the proclamation of emergency of Nov 3, 2007, Justice Isa, as a lawyer, chose not to appear before judges who allegedly violated their oath.

Subsequently, after the Supreme Court declared the 2007 action unconstitutional, all the then judges of the Balochistan High Court tendered their resignation; on Aug 5, 2009, Justice Isa was directly elevated as the high court’s chief justice.

As chief justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Isa will face a huge challenge of 54,547 pending

cases in the top court alone, whereas the overall number of cases pending in the country’s judiciary, including the superior courts and the district courts, is around 2.2 million.

Justice Isa will also inherit a divided Supreme Court. However, he is a member of the nine-judge bench that will take up challenges to the trial of civilians in the military court accused in the May 9 violence.

His presence on the bench has become significant since he was part of the 17-judge Supreme Court bench that in August 2015 approved the setting up of nine special courts manned by military officers to try hardened militants while deciding the challenges to the 21st constitutional amendment.

That order was passed by a majority of 11 to 6. Justice Isa, one of those who dissented, observed at the time that the 21st amendment did not succeed in its attempt to try civilians by the military and that the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997, which, if implemented, would help to stem terrorism and ensure the conviction of terrorists.

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2023

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