QUETTA: Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry said on Tuesday that three judges who were part of the bench that heard the contempt case against the prime minister would not be available if a review petition came up.
Therefore, he added, two ad hoc judges and an additional judge would have to be appointed in the apex court to ensure that a nine-member bench heard the appeal.
Speaking at the inauguration of a new building of the Balochistan High Court’s bench in Sibi on Tuesday, he said since a seven-member bench had heard the contempt case, a nine-member bench was necessary for the review petition.
Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry did not identify the three judges who would not be “available” nor did he specify the reason.
“At present, only six judges are available and in this situation we will have to induct three more judges to form a nine-member bench to conduct hearing if the government files an appeal,” the CJP said.
He said that under Articles 181 and 182 of the Constitution, additional and ad hoc judges could be inducted to constitute a big bench, if required.
Earlier, the chief justice inaugurated the premises of the Sibi circuit bench and planted a sapling.
Hundreds of lawyers from Quetta, Sibi and Nasirabad divisions attended the function.
They hosted a luncheon for the chief justice and other judges.
Several delegations of bar associations from Nasirabad, Sibi, Dera Allahyar, Dera Murad Jamali, Usta Mohammad and Dera Bugti called on the chief justice in Sibi.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry advised them to play their role in swift and smooth dispensation of justice, saying that it was their responsibility to continue their struggle for securing and protecting rights of the downtrodden.
He expressed the hope that the Sibi circuit bench would improve access to justice.
The Pakistan Bar Council on Tuesday came out in opposition to the move for appointment of two ad hoc and one acting judges in the Supreme Court for completing the bench to hear a review petition by the prime minister against his conviction.
The council appealed to its members to ensure their presence at a meeting slated in Lahore for May 5 where the PBC intends to work out its line of action in case ad hoc judges are appointed instead of elevating high court judges to the SC bench.
“We have rescheduled the meeting for May 5 (from May 3) because some members and presidents of the bar councils and associations are preoccupied, but they have assured us of their attendance on the changed date,” PBC vice chairman Akhtar Hussain told Dawn.
The venue and time of the meeting will, however, remain unchanged — the Lahore High Court Bar Association office at 10am.
The PBC is a mother institution which oversees the affairs of all bar councils and bar associations in the country.
The meeting, to be attended by chairmen and vice chairmen of the executive committees of all bar councils, former and incumbent presidents of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and presidents of the high court bar associations will chalk out a future line of action and take coordinated steps to oppose the move to appoint ad hoc or acting judges in the apex court.
Mr Hussain said the PBC had always opposed such a move and advocated elevating a high court judge to the Supreme Court to fill a vacant seat.
According to an informed source, the law ministry is seized with a proposal for the appointment of Justice (retd) Mahmood Akhtar Shahid Siddiqui and Justice (retd) Ghulam Rabbani as ad hoc judges and a sitting senior judge of the Lahore High Court as acting judge of the apex court.
Justice Shahid Siddiqui retired as SC judge on Oct 13 last year and Justice Ghulam Rabbani as ad hoc judge on Oct 19 that year.
The Supreme Court is currently working with 16 judges against the total sanctioned strength of 17. One judge is indisposed due to health reasons while a senior judge is officiating as acting chief election commissioner.
Another judge, who had declined to sit on a previous bench set up to hear an intra-court appeal of the prime minister against framing of charges in the contempt case, may again prefer not to sit on the bench, thus depleting further the size of the court that may take up the challenge whenever moved by the prime minister against his conviction.
Whenever heard, the composition of the bench should comprise at least nine judges -- larger than the earlier seven-judge which had handed down symbolic punishment to the prime minister. Only appointment of ad hoc and acting judges will fill the gap.
The last of such hullabaloo on ad hoc appointments was raised when a full-court meeting had on Feb 14 last year proposed to grant second extension to Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday as ad hoc judge. The idea was dropped after opposition by the bar councils and associations.
Meanwhile, special assistant to the prime minister Fawad Chaudhry suggested that the chief justice should refer the matter to the seven-judge bench that had awarded sentence to the prime minister. The bench should take up the matter again on its own to suspend the sentence because according to provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code if a sentence is less than a year it could be suspended, he added.
Under the 19th Amendment, the chief justice can ask for appointment of any ad hoc judge under Article 182 of the Constitution, but after consultation with members of the judicial commission constituted under the 18th Amendment. However, an approval by an eight-member Parliamentary Committee as required under the 18th Amendment is not necessary in this case.
A request for appointment of both acting and ad hoc judges will be routed through the ten-member judicial commission, headed by the chief justice.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has already called a meeting of the commission on May 9.
Similarly, under Article 181 of the Constitution, the President on recommendations of the judicial commission can appoint a high court judge to act temporarily as a judge of the apex court.