Symbolism marks Justice Isa’s swearing-in as CJP

Published September 18, 2023
Justice Qazi Faez Isa was sworn in as the 29th chief justice of Pakistan on Sunday. — Presidency
Justice Qazi Faez Isa was sworn in as the 29th chief justice of Pakistan on Sunday. — Presidency

• Top judge breaks precedent, calls wife to stand beside him during oath administration
• Creates history by appointing first female judicial officer as SC registrar
• Ceremonial event marred by ‘conspicuous absence’ of four immediate predecessors

ISLAMABAD: At a ceremony that was as symbolic as it was ceremonial, Justice Qazi Faez Isa was sworn in as the 29th chief justice of Pakistan, with his wife, Sarina Isa, standing beside him as he read out the oath.

CJP Isa also made history with his first decision to appoint a judicial officer as the first-ever female registrar of the Supreme Court.

The oath-taking ceremony took place on Sunday at the Aiwan-i-Sadr, where President Arif Alvi — who had filed a reference against the judge four years earlier over alleged misconduct and non-disclosure of assets — administered the oath.

Among others, caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar, judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts, caretaker Sindh Chief Minister retired justice Maqbool Baqar, Chief of Army Staff Gen Asim Munir, Inter-Services Intelli­gence Director General Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum, senators and foreign ambassadors attended the event.

Symbolism

Before the ceremony commenced, CJP Isa asked a military officer to communicate to his wife to be present along with him at the time of oath-taking.

The action was a break away from the precedent because even though spouses accompanying their partners during oath-taking ceremonies are common visuals all over the world, it was yet to happen in Pakistan.

“It was their day, and [the] CJP did a right thing,” said a senior official on condition of anonymity and recalled how John G. Roberts Jr’s wife stood beside him when he took oath as the 17th chief justice of the United States on Sept 29, 2005 at the White House.

One of the participants who attended the ceremony was heard saying the presence of Ms Isa along with her husband was “a clear message of steadfastness” demonstrated by her during the trying times faced by her husband when President Alvi had sent a reference against him.

Conspicuous absence

At the start of the ceremony, the secretary law read out a notification issued on June 21 confirming the then-justice Isa’s appointment as the CJP.

“In exercise of the powers conferred by clause (3) of Article 175 A read with Article 177 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is pleased to appoint Hon’ble Mr Justice Qazi Faez Isa, the most Senior Judge of the Supreme Court as Chief Justice of Pakistan with effect from Sept 17, 2023,” said the notification.

The ceremony was attended by several former chief justices and judges, including Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Tassaduq Jillani, Manzoor Malik, Mazhar Alam Miankhel, Dost Muhammad Khan and Iqbal Hameedur Rehman. However, the absence of four immediate predecessors of CJP Isa — Umar Ata Bandial, Gulzar Ahmed, Asif Saeed Khosa and Saqib Nisar — was conspicuous.

 Justices of the Supreme Court at Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s swearing-in ceremony. — DawnNewsTV
Justices of the Supreme Court at Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s swearing-in ceremony. — DawnNewsTV

A number of bar councils and bar association representatives were also present at the ceremony.

In the adjacent room next to the ceremonial hall, CJP Isa and his wife stood beside President Alvi and caretaker PM Kakar to meet all the guests and thank them for their presence.

Historic appointment

After the new chief justice, the apex court also got a new registrar on Sunday with the appointment of Jazeela Aslam.

In other postings, CJP Isa appointed Dr Muhammad Mushtaq Ahmad as his secretary and Abdul Sadiq as staff officer.

Before her appointment as the registrar, Ms Aslam was serving as Okara district and sessions judge. She is the senior-most female district and sessions judge in Punjab.

Ms Aslam wrote ‘Guidelines on Writing Judgments (2019)’ for the use of civil judges and prepared a report on the ‘Property Rights of Women (2020)’, according to an SC press release issued after her appointment.

Dr Ahmad, the chief justice’s new secretary, was serving as professor and chairman of the Department of Shariah and Law at the Shifa Tameer-i-Millat University in Islamabad.

He is a professor of law from Mardan and has LLB (Hons), LLM, MA and PhD degrees.

Mr Sadiq, the chief justice’s staff officer, was a native of Balochistan and serving as the security officer in the Balochistan High Court prior to his appointment.

Challenges ahead

Legal experts and those who attended the ceremony agreed that expectations from the new CJP were high, especially when his tenure was only 13 months long — ending in Oct 2024.

He is inheriting “a landscape fraught with intricate issues and unresolved problems that have marred the judiciary’s credibility and effectiveness,” said legal expert Usama Khawar.

According to Mr Khawar, some of the immediate challenges in front of CJP Isa are the controversy around the delay in general elections, the trial of civilians in military court, the fate of the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act, 2023 and pending references against his colleague Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi.

Tumultuous journey

CJP Isa was elevated as judge of the apex court in September 2014. During his time as the Balochistan High Court chief justice and then as the Supreme Court judge, he authored several landmark judgements and was part of high-profile inquiry commissions.

His notable rulings include the suo motu on Hazara killings and killings of nationalists as Balochistan High Court CJ and the Faizabad sit-in suo motu judgement in 2017 as the SC judge.

He was also the head of the Memogate Commission, the Commission on the assassination attempt on Justice Khawaja Sharif, the Quetta Bombing Commission and the Audio Leaks Commission.

However, he faced arguably the biggest challenge of his legal career in 2019 when the presidential reference was filed against him over alleged misconduct and non-disclosure of foreign assets, particularly his family’s properties in the UK. The reference was widely seen as an effort to silence him, especially after his significant role in the Faizabad sit-in case in 2019, according to Mr Khawar.

In June 2020, a ten-judge SC bench headed by former CJP Umar Ata Bandial quashed the reference. However, it ordered the FBR to conduct an inquiry into the allegation of non-declaration of foreign assets.

Later, in a dramatic twist in April 2021, the same bench — with a majority of six to four — overturned its previous verdict after accepting Justice Isa’s review petition against the order.

But despite being the senior puisne judge, Justice Isa was “deliberately” sidelined from constitutional matters of significance.

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2023

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