• Justice Shah says common man might not understand difference between public and personal interest petitions
• Ex-CJP Khawaja says met Imran only once in 15 years

ISLAMABAD: Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah on Monday recused himself from a seven-member SC bench hearing the challenge to military trial of civilians “only to safeguard public trust in the integrity and impartiality” of courts.

Justice Shah, in his note, said petitioner Jawwad S. Khawaja was his relative, but added the latter had filed the petition in public interest, not involving any interest of his own.

Yet he acceded to the government’s request and withdrew from the bench only because the common man might not fully understand the difference between petitions filed in ‘public interest’ and ‘personal interest’, he explained.

At the same time, he underlined that judges should not readily accede to the request for their recusal from hearing a case and decide the matter after properly weighing the ground agitated for making such request. Where it was apparent that the perception of impartiality was being created for some ulterior motive without any sound basis, the judge must not yield to such strategy and abdicate performance of his duty, Justice Shah wrote.

He said if such a request was based on some reasonable ground that may genuinely raise doubt in the mind of a common person about the impartiality of the judge, the safest course for the judge was to accept such request in the larger interest of upholding public trust in the integrity and impartiality of the court.

While the petitioner was his relative, Justice Shah noted that Article IV of the code of conduct for superior court judges was not applicable in the case as the petition was moved in public interest, and not personal interest, and a verdict either way would not affect him personally.

According to Article IV, a judge must decline resolutely to act in a case involving his own interest, including those persons whom he regards and treats as near relatives or close friend.

‘Never met Imran’

On the other hand, petitioner and former chief justice of Pakistan Jawwad S. Khawaja brushed aside any speculations that his challenge to military trial of civilians was aimed at supporting PTI chairman Imran Khan.

In a two-page statement issued in Urdu through Barrister Umar Gillani on Monday, the ex-CJP said he still believed the trial of civilians in military courts was ‘illegal’ and ‘unconstitutional’ as it impinges upon fundamental rights.

Therefore, he said, those creating an impression as if his point of view on civilians’ trial in military courts was something new or based on personal or family exigencies either did not know history or were deliberately spreading false accusations.

Ex-CJP Khawaja said Mr Khan was known to him for past 60 years, though he had never met him during the last 50 years, except for once at a wedding ceremony some 15 years ago.

“Likewise my relationship with Hamid Khan, the lawyer of Imran Khan, spans over a period of 46 years since he is the most credible jurist and therefore commands complete respect,” the statement said, adding they had never discussed anything about the case or the present petition.

Elaborating on reasons for issuing the statement, Justice Khawaja said one of his journalist friends had texted him about the speculations with regard to his filing of the petition before the Supreme Court.

He said the media friend also suggested him to clarify his position in this regard.

The ex-CJP said he had a fair idea how much “frightened” the media was or how much they had compromised on their independence.

“Despite having this opinion, I still believe that being a nation we are standing at the crossroads of history,” he said, making it clear that his opinion about civilians’ trial in military courts was not formed after the May 9 incidents.

He said he had filed the petition for the benefit of the people at large and it was different from the one filed by Hamid Khan on behalf of the PTI chairman.

Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2023

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