• Observers say SJC-hit colleague’s resignation put Justice Ahsan in awkward position
• Abrupt exit to benefit Justice Mansoor, who moves up in seniority list; also replaces outgoing judge on SJC, special committee on formation of benches
ISLAMABAD: Justice Ijazul Ahsan, the third senior-most judge in the Supreme Court who was destined to become the next chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) in Oct this year, opted to leave office just a day after his colleague stepped down following allegations of misconduct.
A day earlier, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi had tendered his resignation amid proceedings against him in the Supreme Judicial Council, which is led by CJP Qazi Faez Isa.
The abrupt resignation of Justice Ahsan will benefit the next senior judge, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, since he will become the next chief justice soon after the retirement of CJP Isa on Oct 25, 2024. Otherwise, Justice Shah was expected to hold the coveted office from Aug 3, 2025.
Justice Shah now also replaces Justice Ahsan on the Supreme Judicial Council, as well as the three-member special committee in charge of bench formation.
A senior counsel, on condition of anonymity, hoped that the elevation of Justice Shah as the next CJP would hopefully bring stability to the institution. “It’s time that the wounds are healed for the future.”
After the resignation of Justice Ahsan, the strength of the Supreme Court has been reduced to 14 out of the available 16 judges, against a sanctioned strength of 17.
‘Surprise resignation letter’
“I no longer wish to continue as a judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Therefore, I, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, resign as a judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in terms of Article 206(1) of the Constitution with immediate effect,” said the one-page resignation letter sent to President Dr Arif Alvi.
“I have had the honour and privilege of serving as a judge of the Lahore High Court, the chief justice of the Lahore High Court and a judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan,” said the resignation duly signed by Justice Ahsan.
Justice Ahsan was also allegedly embroiled in a controversy of hearing a case of his former client, M/s BNP (Private) Limited relating to the One Constitution building and extending relief to them.
“A purge of judges is taking place at the Supreme Court,” senior counsel Faisal Siddiqui was quick to respond to the resignation.
“This is, in essence, PCO (Provisional Constitution Order) by other means,” he claimed. According to the counsel, the ultimate objective was to silence dissenting judicial voices. “Have no doubt, no judge is safe now,” he regretted.
Former additional attorney general (AAG) Tariq Mehmood Khokhar regretted that Justice Ijazul Ahsan resigned under a shadow.
“It is a shadow of a national witchhunt (perceived or otherwise) against out-of-step judges, politicians, and journalists amid constitutional, democratic, and judicial ambivalence. It bodes ill for an already-fractured institution,” he said.
“It is very surprising to hear that Justice Ahsan has resigned,” former minister Ishaq Khakwani said, adding he found him to be a “very honourable judge”.
“A person of few words and carried himself with dignity,” he said, hoping that the institution would recover soon from these events.
Road to resignation
Though the resignation letter did not divulge many details, legal experts believed that the surprise departure of Justice Naqvi, who Justice Ahsan had gone the extra mile to defend before the SJC, had left him red-faced.
Recently, Justice Ahsan had written a long note to the SJC where he said that the SJC proceedings against Justice Naqvi were being conducted in haste contrary to the established norms.
This note was also mentioned by CJP Isa during SJC proceedings on Thursday, who said that one of the members — an obvious reference to Justice Ahsan — had written a long note disagreeing with what was happening in the council.
“The judge wrote that the proceedings were being conducted in haste and contrary to the established norms, but nobody informed us what established norm the council should have followed,” the CJP quipped.
When the SJC commenced its proceedings on Thursday, it comprised four members. Later, the council began its proceedings with Justice Shah replacing Justice Ahsan. The council stated that if a judge “resigns before the initiation of council proceedings, it was a different ball game than the judge who resigned after the issuance of the show-cause notice”.
Differences between CJP and Ahsan
After Justice Isa became the CJP, differences started to surface between the him and Justice Ahsan, with the latter being dubbed by his detractors as a part of the so-called ‘Bandial group’.
On Dec 12, 2023, CJP Isa, in response to the objections raised by Justice Ahsan to the working of the three-judge committee that fixes cases before different benches, had emphasised that the primary and first responsibility of a judge was to attend judicial work.
In his response, Justice Isa also questioned the work ethic of Justice Ahsan, saying: “We are paid to work six days, not four and a half days”.
After the full court proceedings to decide challenges to the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act 2023, Justice Ahsan was never seen sitting on any bench headed by the chief justice.
The last significant judgement by Justice Ahsan pertained to the military courts, in which a five-member bench in a unanimous verdict declared the trial of 103 civilians allegedly involved in the May 9 violence against the Constitution.
Justice Ahsan had also taken up the issue with two special benches formed by the special committee, of which he was a part, to hear intra-court appeals (ICA) in the military court case and the Justice Naqvi case.
PML-N demands accountability
PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb demanded that Justice Ahsan must be held accountable. In a press conference, she said the resignation could not exonerate him from the “terrible actions” against the democracy and constitution.
“You were the monitoring judge [in Panama Papers case]; you called a democratic political party a ‘Sicilian Mafia’; you were the one who put together ‘gems’ of your choice in the JIT; made a mockery of justice…” the PML-N leader alleged.
In a comment on the resignation of the two judges, she claimed the top court would be strengthened with the exit of such judges.
Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2024