Justice Qazi Faez Isa was sworn in as the 29th chief justice of Pakistan on Sunday. His first act as the CJP was to form a full court to hear challenges to the law clipping the top judge’s powers. The hearing is tomorrow.
He was administered the oath of office by President Arif Alvi during a ceremony at Aiwan-i-Sadr in Islamabad. Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar and Chief of Army Staff Asim Munir were also in attendance, along with all judges of the apex court.
Ex-CJPs Iftikhar Chaudhry and Tassaduq Jillani were also present.
The ceremony began with the recitation of the Holy Quran, following which the notification for Justice Isa’s appointment was read out. The president then administered the oath to Justice Isa, whose wife Sarina Isa stood by his side.
Justice Isa forms full court to take up challenges to law curtailing CJP’s powers
In his first act as the top judge following the oath-taking ceremony today, Justice Isa formed a full court to hear a set of challenges to the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act 2023, a bill that requires the formation of benches on constitutional matters of public importance by a committee of three senior judges of the court.
The pleas will be taken up at 9am tomorrow (Monday). Notices for the proceeding have already been issued to Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan.
The enforcement of the SC (Practice and Procedure) Act, 2023 had been suspended on the April 13 order of an eight-judge apex court bench, headed by outgoing CJP Umar Ata Bandial.
When the law was suspended, Justice Bandial had observed that the court had great respect for the Parliament but it also had to examine if any constitutional deviation, violation or transgression had taken place while enacting the SC (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023.
The petitioners had pleaded before the apex court that the concept, preparation, endorsement and passing of the SC (Practice and Procedure) Bill was an act tainted with mala fide. Therefore, the bill should be struck down after declaring it to be without lawful authority and of no legal effect, the petition contended.
Moreover, they said the federal government cannot frame any law that seeks to interfere or regulate with the functioning of the apex court or the powers exercised by it or its judges including CJP, under the Constitution.
ADSJ Jazeela Aslam appointed first woman SC registrar
CJP Isa has appointed Okara Additional District and Sessions Judge Jazeela Aslam as the first female Supreme Court Registrar of the country.
The notification of the appointment, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, said: “Pursuant to Honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan, Islamabad […] dated September 17, 2023, the Honourable Chief Justice and Judges are pleased to place the services of Ms Jazeela Aslam, District and Sessions Judge, Okara, in the public interest, with immediate effect at the disposal of that court, for her posting as Registrar, Supreme Court of Pakistan on deputation basis for a period of three years.”
It added that ADSJ Jazeela would remain repatriated to the SC for the aforementioned time unless directed otherwise.
According to a press release issued by the SC, ADSJ Jazeela, mother of three, got a first division in her Bachelor’s degree from Kinnaird College, completed her LLB from the Punjab University and secured second position in the judicial competitive exam of Punjab.
She joined the Punjab Judicial Service as civil judge/judicial magistrate in May 1994 and has also worked as a deputy solicitor.
ADSJ Jazeela is also the senior most lady district and sessions judge in Punjab.
The press release added that Professor Muhammad Mushtaq Ahmad and Abdul Sadiq were appointed as the chief justice’s secretary and staff officer, respectively.
Who is Justice Isa?
Born in Quetta on October 26, 1959, Justice Qazi Faez Isa is the son of the late Qazi Mohammad Isa of Pishin, who was in the forefront of the Pakistan Movement and a close associate of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Justice Isa’s father was the first person from the province to acquire the Bar-at-Law degree and helped establish the All India Muslim League in Balochistan after his return from London. His father had served as the only member on the Central Working Committee of the All India Muslim League from Balochistan.
Begum Saida Isa, Justice Isa’s mother, was a social worker and worked in an honorary capacity on the boards of hospitals and other charitable organisations which focused on education, children and women’s health issues.
After completing his primary and secondary education in Quetta, Isa moved to Karachi to finish his ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels from the Karachi Grammar School (KGS). He then went on to study law from London, where he completed his Bar Professional Examination from the Inns of Court School Law, London.
Justice Isa enrolled as an Advocate of the Balochistan High Court on January 30, 1985, and as an Advocate Supreme Court in March 1998.
He has practised law for over 27 years before the High Courts of Pakistan, the Federal Shariat Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan. He became a member of the Balochistan High Court Bar Association, Sindh High Court Bar Association and Life Member of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan.
From time to time, he was called upon by the High Courts and the Supreme Court as amicus curiae and rendered assistance in certain complicated cases. He has also conducted international arbitration.
Justice Isa took oath as a judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on September 5, 2014.
The biggest challenge Justice Isa may encounter during his tenure as the CJP would be unifying the court and restoring the court’s credibility, so that no one could point a finger at the court’s judgements.
The perceived practice of the formation of a particular bench consisting of ‘like-minded judges’ to hear constitutional matters of public importance has become the basis of criticism of the top judiciary.
There has been a general feeling that senior judges were being left out in the formation of benches for desired outcomes of the proceedings.
On his first day at the helm on Monday, Justice Isa will take up a set of challenges to the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act 2023 — a bill that required the formation of benches on constitutional matters of public importance by a committee of three senior judges.
An eight-judge bench headed by the outgoing CJP on April 13 suspended the enforcement of the Supreme Court (Practice & Procedure) Act, 2023.
In a statement, a Justice Isa-led commission had earlier questioned the formation of a bench that was hearing a set of six challenges against the probe body formed to look into the audio leaks, saying that the bench hearing the matter was not determined by a three-member committee of judges as required under the suspended act.
Since the petitions challenging the audio commission were not fixed before the bench constituted by the committee of judges; therefore, these petitions cannot be heard until the committee determines which bench should hear them, the commission had stated.
On June 3, Justice Isa decided not to sit on a nine-judge bench hearing cases on the trial of civilians by the military courts, saying he did not want to violate the suspension of the law; until the court decides about the vires of the practice and procedure law he will not sit on the benches. As a result, Justice Isa chose to do chamber work instead of holding court hearings.
The biggest test Justice Isa may face as the CJP, according to a senior counsel who wished not to be named, will come when the controversy regarding general elections within 90 days of the dissolution of the national and provincial assemblies may land in the Supreme Court.
In addition, he will also have to maintain a working relationship with the executive. President Arif Alvi asked the Election Commission of Pakistan to seek guidance from the Supreme Court on holding general elections on the same day.
About the pending hearing on the trial of civilians by the military courts, the counsel explained that the case may not be his individual challenge but of the entire court, and since Justice Isa had already expressed his opinion in an earlier case, he might even choose to sit on the bench.
In a dissenting judgement against military courts in August 2015, Justice Isa observed the 21st Amendment does not succeed in its attempt to try civilians by the military and that the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, which if implemented would help to stem terrorism and also ensure the conviction of terrorists.
To determine how Justice Isa will conduct his business at the SC, the senior lawyer said he “understands the dynamics clearly” as he remained the top judge of the Balochistan High Court from 2009 to 2014 — a very sensitive period when military operations were ongoing in Balochistan. Another challenge for Justice Isa will also be how to tackle the whopping pendency of over 56,000 cases.
Additional reporting by Rana Bilal