ISLAMABAD: A nine-member larger bench of the Supreme Court will commence on Tuesday (Dec 12) a long-pending presidential reference seeking to revisit the 1979 controversial death sentence awarded to former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa, the larger bench will consist of Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Yahya Afridi, Justice Amin-ud-Din Khan, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, Justice Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi and Justice Musarrat Hilali.

Earlier, the bench which heard the presidential reference for quite some time comprised former CJP Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and now-retired judges namely Javed Iqbal, Mian Shakirullah Jan, Nasirul Mulk, Muhammad Said Ali, Mahmood Akhtar Shahid Siddiqui, Jawad S. Khawaja, Anwar Zaheer Jamali, Khilji Arif Hussain, Sarmad Jalal Osmany and Ghulam Rabbani.

The reference was filed on behalf of former president Asif Ali Zardari on April 2, 2011, to seek an opinion on revisiting the death sentence awarded to former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto under the Supreme Court’s advisory jurisdiction.

Reference was originally filed on behalf of ex-president Zardari in April 2011; apex court to also hear plea of former IHC judge seeking his restoration

The reference was filed before the top court under Article 186 (1 and 2) of the Constitution, which empowers the president to refer any question of public importance to the Supreme Court to seek its opinion on an issue.

In a split verdict by four to three, a seven-judge Supreme Court bench had upheld a Lahore High Court verdict of awarding the death sentence to the former prime minister in March 1979 during the regime of military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq, who had overthrown the PPP government in July 1977.

On Nov 11, 1974, an FIR was lodged after assassination of Nawab Mohammad Ahmed Khan implicating former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for conspiracy to murder a political opponent Ahmad Raza Kasuri at the Police Station Ichara under Sections 120-B, 302, 109 and 301 and 307 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).

Then former attorney general Maulvi Anwarul Haq had informed the court that the original record of FIR No. 402 for which the Supreme Court was asking repeatedly had been recovered from the FIA records and subsequently furnished before the court.

The reason for which the court was continuously demanding the missing records was to learn why the case against Mr Bhutto was revived in 1977 when the same was closed in 1975 after the report of retired Justice Shafiur Rehman Commission on the conspiracy to murder charges against Mr Bhutto surfaced.

The case was reopened in 1977 when it was tagged with another case involving now disbanded Federal Security Force (FSF) in a bomb blast attempt to assassinate retired Air Martial Asghar Khan at the Lahore Railway Station.

Former IHC judge’s plea

Separately, a five-member Supreme Court bench on Dec 14 will resume an appeal moved by former Islamabad High Court judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui seeking his restoration as a permanent judge of the high court after setting aside an Oct 11, 2018, notification of his removal. Justice Siddiqui already reached superannuation on June 30, 2021.

The bench set to resume the hearing consists of the CJP, Justice Aminud Din Khan, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel, Justice Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi and Justice Irfan Saadat Khan.

Former judge Siddiqui was removed from the high judicial office on the recommendation of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) under Article 209 of the Constitution for displaying a conduct unbecoming of a judge by delivering a speech on July 21, 2018, at the District Bar Association of Rawalpindi, thus guilty of misconduct.

In his appeal, the former judge has explained the context in which he was compelled to address the Rawalpindi District Bar Association and made remarks against the involvement of certain officers of the executive organ of the State, specifically the ISI, in the affairs of the judiciary and to allegedly manipulate the formation of the benches of the high court.

The remarks made by the petitioner (Justice Siddiqui) were an honest attempt demanded by his conscience to counter the challenges posed to the independence of the judiciary, the appeal said.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2023

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