• AGP objects to Justice Mansoor Ali Shah’s presence as he is related to ex-CJP Khawaja • CJP says he expects military trials to be paused as long as matter is sub judice

ISLAMABAD: Another judge left the bench constituted to hear pleas challenging the trials of civilians under the army act, after the country’s top law officer objected to the presence of Justice Mansoor Ali Shah on the bench hearing the case.

Consequently, the bench shrank to six judges, and Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial observed that he expected that no trial of any individuals, accused of committing violence on May 9, will commence in military courts while the apex court was hearing the matter.

However, in his presser later in the day, ISPR DG Maj Gen Ahmed Sharif Chaudhry mentioned that proceedings against the 102 people handed over for trial under the army act were already underway.

The CJP’s observation came at the conclusion of Monday’s hearing, after Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan assured the court that they would share the names of all 102 individuals in military custody.

• AGP objects to Justice Mansoor Ali Shah’s presence as he is related to ex-CJP Khawaja • CJP says he expects military trials to be paused as long as matter is sub judice

CJP Bandial also asked AGP to obtain instructions for family members of those individuals to get access to them and, in view of some complaints, provision of proper food and reading material to the detainees.

Earlier, the court witnessed high drama when the government objected to the presence of Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah on the seven-judge bench.

At the outset of Monday’s hearing, the AGP came to the rostrum to explain that he was under government instructions to request Justice Shah to consider withdrawing himself from the bench since he was related to one of the petitioners — Jawwad S. Khawaja.

Justice Shah reminded the AGP that he had already clarified his position, adding he was very clear, familiar and sensitive about Article IV of the Code of Conduct for superior court judges and therefore he would like to opt out of the bench. “I could not do justice when someone raises fingers against me,” Justice Shah observed.

The CJP, while pointing towards AGP, regretted that it was not a matter of choice or liking, and asked on what basis he was objecting — the conflict of interest or the basis of bias.

The AGP responded that the objections rest on the basis of conflict of interest.

“Don’t tarnish or malign the judges and when done by the government, what message you want to give,” the CJP observed.

Defending former CJP Jawwad S. Khawaja, CJP Bandial observed that he had worked with the former and found him a man without any politics. “He is a dervish,” the CJP observed, adding that his counsel was a corporate lawyer who also had nothing to do with politics.

The CJP noted that the judges were called ‘like-minded’ and they [government members] stand up in parliament to criticise the judges.

“What are you up to, sir?” the CJP wondered and cautioned that the court had never pursued anyone for not complying with the court judgements, but it’s time to take a step backward in this regard.

Sardar Abdul Latif Khosa, counsel for one of the petitioners Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, described the request of recusing as unfair, adding that two days of public time was wasted by the federal government.

“This is a sad day for the country,” he said, adding “we will not accept contemptuous annihilation of the judiciary”.

The bench then retired and reassembled after over an hour with six judges, with the CJP observing that they were still recovering from certain setbacks, adding that rather than going on merits and the Constitution, other devices were being resorted to by the government.

Request for judicial commission

Advocate Uzair Bhindari, on behalf of PTI Chairman Imran Khan, requested the court to consider appointing a judicial commission to inquire into the incidents of May 9, but the CJP observed that these requests were in fact political goals and aspirations and “we should talk about legal matters”.

The AGP said the cases of 102 detained persons were at the investigation stage and it was likely that the number may be reduced as their cases may be sent to normal courts after the probe is completed.

When Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar wondered about the rationale behind the ‘pick and choose’ approach, AGP Awan retorted that it was not a question of ‘pick and choose’, rather the custody of only those were being sought for prosecution under the military law who had breached the parameters and entered the prohibited area.

“Are you making the statement under instructions, because we do not want your personal opinion?” observed Justice Ayesha A. Malik.

The AGP explained that whatever he was stating was on the basis of instructions, but assured the court that he would share the names of 102 detained persons.

Advocate Salman Akram Raja, on behalf of petitioner Junaid Razzaq, whose son has been selected for trial in the military court, regretted that the detainees’ families were completely in the dark as to what was happening, adding “we need to know who are these 102 people”. He further said that more than 102 people were in the military custody.

Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2023

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