Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa has responded to concerns by Supreme Court Justice Ijazul Ahsan regarding bench formation and said his “accusations are contrary to the record and the facts”, it emerged on Tuesday.

Disagreement in the workings of the three-judge committee that fixes cases before different benches surfaced a day ago, with Justice Ahsan asking CJP Isa to issue a roster originally agreed upon during the committee meeting.

Justice Ahsan is a member of the three-judge committee constituted under Section 2(1) of the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act 2023 to determine the fixation of cases before different benches. The committee consists of CJP Isa, Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, and Justice Ahsan.

In two separate letters, one issued to the secretary of the committee on December 11 and the other to the chief justice on November 17, Justice Ahsan had stressed that the rule of seniority of judges was agreed to be followed to hear cases in the interest of transparency.

The letters were issued in response to the release of the minutes of the fourth and fifth meetings of the committee, with the minutes of the fourth meeting suggesting that a larger bench would be constituted by CJP Isa and Justice Masood to hear the intra-court appeals regarding trials of civilians under the Pakistan Army Act, 1952.

In his Nov 17 letter, Justice Ahsan had said it was agreed that benches earlier formed would continue to hear the cases during the winter vacation from Dec 16, but a fresh court roster was issued.

The letter regretted that even though he was earlier told that Justice Masood was not available since he was unwell, the court roster signed by two members of the committee was issued and belatedly, the roster was presented to him as a fait accompli. “This is, to say the least, most improper since I was available throughout for consultation and discussion … I do not therefore agree with this roster,” Justice Ahsan had observed.

“I, therefore, request that a fresh court roster issued in violation of Section 2 of the Act be recalled and the original court roster as agreed by the committee in its last meeting held on October 26, which was required to be continued till Dec 16 be accordingly continued.”

It has emerged that CJP Isa had already responded to the letter on Nov 18 after the apex court made the document available on its website today (Tuesday).

CJP Isa said he was “disappointed” to receive the Nov 17 letter, saying that his office and he were always available and reachable to his colleagues but “you neither came to talk to me nor reached out to me … to express your concerns.”

The top judge said that he had immediately attempted to contact Justice Ahsan upon receiving his letter but learnt that the latter had left for Lahore early on Friday (Nov 17) afternoon and “before the end of the working day”.

“We are paid to work six days, not four and a half days,” the top judge remarked.

He said the primary and first responsibility of a judge was to attend to judicial work and thus he had initially scheduled the committee meeting after all work would be done by Friday afternoon.

“But, conceding to your request, the committee meetings were rescheduled to Thursdays, which I now consider may have been a mistake.”

CJP Isa argued that if he had not wanted to consult Justices Ahsan or Masood then why would he have imposed the consultation process on himself when an apex court bench comprising Justice Ahsan had suspended the Act’s operation.

He further asked why would he have had the committee meetings’ minutes uploaded to the apex court’s website if he did not want to abide by the decisions in them.

“Before I attend to your uncalled for allegations, let me remind you that the first meeting of the committee was delayed due to your non-availability” and then another due to Justice Ahsan attending a conference in Hong Kong and others for different reasons.

He said the Nov 16 meeting could not take place due to a colleague’s ill health and Justice Ahsan “had consented to the meeting being adjourned to the coming week.

“On my part I have throughout been available, have never adjourned a meeting because it was inconvenient for me and have always accommodated my colleagues.”

He said the two regular benches for civil and criminal cases were the only ones to continue working till the winter vacations and were minuted on Oct 26.

Regarding Justice Ahsan’s concern about a fresh roster’s issuance, CJP Isa said it was “necessitated” since some judges were unavailable, including the former being away for the Hong Kong conference and Justice Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi not being available for work on Fridays.

“I may also remind you that Justice Naqvi was a member of a bench with you but, after the bench was constituted, you informed me that since his matter is before the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) you would not want to sit with him.”

CJP Isa said the bench formation demonstrated that every judge was treated equally with respect and special benches were not constituted for particular cases or to include and exclude certain judges.

“Your accusations are contrary to the record and the facts. Nonetheless, if you have any suggestions for the reconstitution of benches kindly propose the same and I shall convene a meeting of the SJC … and you should make it convenient to attend the Supreme Court Registry at Lahore to participate through videolink,” the chief justice concluded.

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