• Justice Minallah calls on govt to file reference against ‘black sheep’ in the judiciary; says judges akin to ‘bumble bees’, not sheep
• AGP clarifies PM wasn’t referring to ‘sitting judges’; law officer quizzed on need to promulgate fresh ordinance
• Imran speaks in SC for first time since arrest; CJP says ex-PM should be allowed all legal material, assistance

ISLAMABAD: The Sup­reme Court on Thursday took exception to criticism by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif of the judiciary, with judges saying that the premier should move a reference if he felt there were any ‘black sheep’ in the courts, instead of using the “shoulders of the judiciary” to settle scores.

These remarks were made by two judges during the hearing of an appeal filed by the government, challenging the Sept 15 judgement of the apex court, which ruled that amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance were illegal.

The proceedings also provided incarcerated former prime minister Imran Khan — also a petitioner in the case — his first chance to speak before the apex court, albeit via video link, after his months-long imprisonment in multiple cases.

But the hearing was not live-streamed after a request to that effect from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa advocate general was turned down by four out of five judges.

The prime minister’s remarks from his speech a couple of days ago, where he had said that some ‘black sheep’ in the judiciary were bent on providing relief to the PTI founder, did not go down well with the five-member bench, with Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail wondering what judges had done to agitate the premier so much that he made such a remark.

Why do parliamentarians always use the shoulders of the judiciary to settle their scores and why are the court’s judgements appreciated if they are in someone’s favour and criticised if not, Justice Mando­khail wondered aloud.

According to the judge, the NAB law was the “biggest problem” for parliamentarians, since it was they who suffered the most due to these laws. But it was up to parliament whether or not to retain the piece of legislation, he observed. At this, the attorney general approached the rostrum, saying that he had a word with the PM, who had clarified that he had never referred to “sitting judges” of the superior courts.

At this, Justice Athar Minallah quipped that the judges were not “black sheep” but “black bumble-bees”, an apparent reference to their ‘sting’.

He also said the government should move a reference against ‘black sheep’ in the judiciary if there existed a perception to this effect and asked the AGP to communicate this to the premier.

Imran addresses the court

At the outset of the hearing, KP Advocate General Shah Faisal Utmankhel sought live streaming of the appeals against the NAB amendment judgement. At this, Justice Minallah said the matter was of public importance; therefore, it should be live-streamed like earlier proceedings to dispel any “impression of impartiality”. The court retired for deliberations and subsequently declined the request by a majority of four to one.

The court also allowed legal assistance to former PM Imran Khan by accepting his plea to meet his legal team inside Adiala Jail without any obstruction. Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa asked Mr Khan if he would like to rely on senior counsel Khawaja Haris Ahmed or address the court on technical matters and how long he would take.

Wearing a dark blue shirt in an e-court inside Adiala jail, Mr Khan responded he was in solitary confinement where he had no access to any material, legal assistance, or even a library. He said since the present matter was of “supreme national interest”, he would like to render assistance to the court which might take half an hour. He complained that the jail authorities did not let him meet his legal team because of “the one-window operation inside the jail premises which a colonel was managing”.

The CJP, however, said Imran Khan would be provided with all the legal material and assistance, adding that nobody should think that they were not being provided with any assistance.

The voice of the ex-PM was not very clear, even inside Courtroom No 1, but he could be seen on a large screen. He kept fidgeting and squirming around in his seat, sipping water, reading documents and counting rosary beads.

In his remarks, the PTI leader regretted how his political party was being victimised and how the public mandate was stolen in the Feb 8 general elections; the Supreme Court should order a judicial commission to probe this. CJP Isa, however, asked him to stick to the matter at hand i.e. the NAB appeals.

Mr Khan also requested that two of his petitions against human rights violations should be fixed for hearing in view of the flagrant violation of fundamental rights in the country.

In its order, the Supreme Court said Khawaja Haris Ahmed, who Mr Khan named as his legal counsel, should coordinate with the jail superintendent and, in case of any difficulty, he should immediately relay the situation to AGP Mansoor Usman Awan.

NAB ordinance

Pointing to senior counsel Makhdoom Ali Khan, who was representing the government, Justice Minallah wondered about any conceivable urgency in promulgating the recent ordinance in which the remand period was extended from 14 days to 40 days. Justice Minallah also wondered whether the ordinance was aimed at certain individuals.

Whether an individual has undermined the authority of parliament by promulgating the ordinance, wondered CJP Isa, while referring to the enactment in which the remand period was lowered to 14 days from 90 days.

When senior counsel Farooq H. Naek highlighted that the ordinance was promulgated even though the Senate was in session, CJP Isa observed he did not want to embarrass him but did he know who signed the ordinance. The ordinance was promulgated by acting President Yousuf Raza Gillani.

Makhdoom Ali Khan, however, explained that he did not support legislation through ordinances unless it “conforms to the criteria laid down by Article 89” of the Constitution.

Justice Minallah also asked the counsel about his opinion on the minority judgement and asked how could judges and generals be exempted from NAB laws. “Are we sacred cows or above the law?” At this Justice Mandokhail observed that judges were “not included in the definition of Service of Pakistan” since they perform a constitutional role.

Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2024

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