Justice Aalia Neelum approved as LHC’s first female top judge

Published July 10, 2024
A photo of Justice Aalia Neelum. — LHC
A photo of Justice Aalia Neelum. — LHC
A photo of Justice Shafi Siddiqui. — SHC
A photo of Justice Shafi Siddiqui. — SHC

Justice Aalia Neelum was approved as the Lahore High Court’s (LHC) first female top judge on Wednesday.

President Asif Ali Zardari approved her appointment, as well as that of Justice Shafi Siddiqui as the Sindh High Court’s (SHC) top judge, under Article 175-A(13) of the Constitution.

The Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP), headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa, had last week approved Justice Neelum’s elevation after considering the nominations of three judges for the position of LHC chief justice, including acting Chief Justice Shujaat Ali Khan and Justice Ali Baqar Najafi.

The JCP had also unanimously recommended Justice Siddiqui’s elevation as the SHC chief justice to fill the vacant seat created by the elevation of Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi to the Supreme Court.

The office of LHC chief justice became vacant after the elevation of Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan to the Supreme Court on June 7, following which Justice Shujaat Ali Khan was appointed as acting LHC chief justice.

Justice Neelum stood third in the seniority list of judges of the LHC. During the June 7 meeting, the JCP had decided to consider her nomination for the office of the LHC chief justice.

In a trailblazing milestone, Justice Syeda Tahira Safdar became the first woman to hold the position of chief justice of the Balochistan High Court in 2018, following the retirement of Justice Mohammad Noor Muskanzai. This was followed by another historic achievement when Justice Ayesha A. Malik became the first woman judge to be appointed to the Supreme Court in 2021.

A well-informed source had told Dawn that the JCP had reached a consensus to elevate Justice Neelum despite the Pakistan Bar Council’s (PBC) opposition and advocacy for adhering to the principle of seniority. The source had said the commission thoroughly evaluated the credentials of all judges under consideration, and the feedback from nearly all member judges of the JCP was in Justice Neelum’s favour.

When asked about the fate of the two senior judges who were bypassed for the position, the source had said it was up to them to decide, but historically, the judges who have been superseded have opted to continue serving as judges.

The source pointed out that this scenario had twice happened in the past, once in the Peshawar High Court and again in the Islamabad High Court.

Justice Neelum, born on November 12, 1966, earned her LLB degree from the University of Punjab in 1995 and was enrolled as an advocate in 1996. She was later enrolled as an advocate of the Supreme Court in 2008 and elevated to the LHC in 2013.

Born on August 12, 1965, Justice Siddiqui was appointed as a judge of the SHC on March 20, 2012. He was enrolled as an advocate of the subordinate judiciary and the high court in 1992 and 1994, respectively, and enrolled as an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2008.

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