By Khalid Hussain-
Justice Umar Ata Bandial had to chew his own words as the Justice Qazi Faez Isa case in the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan took many a dramatic twists on Monday. He announced the dissolution of the full court in the morning but had to retract his announcement late in the evening in the wake of lawyers going all out opposing it.
The lawyers were greatly agitated when the full court was dissolved unexpectedly in the morning. A crisis started to brew that threatened to tarnish the credibility of the SC.
Leading the full court, Justice Umar Ata Bandial announced the news of its dissolution as hearing resumed in the case. “We are here only as a matter of courtesy”, he said addressing the counsels present on behalf of his eight other colleagues. He cited the absence on leave of one member as the reason for the dissolution of the full court. Justice Mian Mazhar Alam Miankhel is on leave for one week due to the death of his cousin in Dera Ismail Khan. The full court adjourned indefinitely without issuing any order the part-heard Constitution Petition No.17 of 2019.
However, Justice Bandial issued a written order late on Monday evening saying, “we are informed that Mr. Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel shall resume his duties next week. Accordingly, the said petition along with connected matters stating the petition along with connected matters has been adjourned to 28.10.2019.” There was no mention of his earlier announcement that bench will be reconstituted.
In the morning when he announced the reconstitution of the bench, counsel of Justice Qazi Munir A. Malik was quickly on his feet saying only a full court should hear the case. “I will make my submissions in front of the full court”, he said adding, “I want to make some submissions on the constitution of the bench.”
“That is for not for you to decide”, Justice Bandial curtly replied. The court was adjourned till further notice.
Leading lawyers in court room one held an impromptu parley and decided to take the issue head on with a press conference. Former Presidents of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) Rashid A. Rizvi and Ali Ahmad Kurd, former chairman executive committee (CEC) & Vice-Chairman of PBC –currently serving as Senior Vice-President of the ruling party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Vice Chairman PBC Amjad Shah addressed the media to register their reservations over the dissolution of the full court. They were accompanied by President Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) Afzal Ahmad Butt.
Talking to the media outside the SC, Rizvi said,” they want to reach a verdict before someone retires.” However he refrained from naming the person. “The conduct of the judges has made it clear we cannot expect justice”, he asserted.
“No one has requested to dissolve the full court”, said Kurd. “What is the urgency in this case? I cannot understand”, he added.
Hamid Khan was caustic in his comments. “This was a full court. The order of a full court cannot be changed. The Chief Justice has no authority to constitute another bench”, he said forcefully. “It is a tradition that a bench is not dissolved till the conclusion of the case. And in this case, there is no compulsion to do so. If a judge is not available then the full court must wait for him to resume duty”, he said.
Vice Chairman PBC Amjad Shah held the bench was dissolved without valid grounds. “If a new bench is constituted to hear this case, then we will object. We want the full court to hear the case”, he added.
Rizvi, Hamid Khan and PFUJ President Afzal Butt then proceeded to meet with the Press Association of Supreme Court of Pakistan (PAS) where they gave a detailed briefing on the issue. Reiterating their earlier stance and holding no bars, Rizvi said, “They are in a haste to decide the case before the CJ retires in December this year”. He further alleged, “He has been allotted three plots since becoming the CJ”. When a journalist asked if the CJ was obliging the government, Rizvi replied, “certainly!”
Rizvi joked, “we once ran the movement to save judiciary but it seems now we will have to run a save us from the judiciary campaign!”
Hamid Khan said, “Benches are biased but they proceed gracefully. They are moving without any dignity”. When a journalist asked why was SCBA President Amanullah Kanrani not with them for the press conference, Hamid replied, “he is with us”.
However, that was not the case and the lawyers were not all on the same page. Talking to The Law Today Pakistan (TLTP) Kanrani expressed a different viewpoint. He held the dissolution of the full court was a “normal” event and there was “no need to create hype”. He said a Justice Amin-ud-Din has taken oath as the newest judge of the SC and may join the reconstituted bench.
Talking to TLTP leading lawyer Bilal Hassan Minto also wondered, “why is the court in a hurry to finish this case?” He said the full court comprises of all eligible judges and if a member is not available then it should just adjourn to the next week. “A reconstitution means it will not be a full court”, he said, adding, “the Bar is raising question because it is hard to understand why is there such a haste. It gives rise to opinions that run wild”.
Minto is counsel of his father the famous lawyer Abid Hassan Minto who has a Civil Petitition with leading human rights activist and senior journalist I. A. Rahman. “Our case is that the actions of the executive had been malafide. So when push like this it creates further doubts on the intentions”. However, he categorically stated that he has full faith in the higher judiciary and dispelled the impression that the CJ can influence other judges of the SC. “The CJ is only first among equals. He cannot influence the judgement of his other colleagues.”
It is pertinent to recall that the Chief Justice (CJ) of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa had earlier formed a seven-member bench to hear the case. This bench was dissolved when counsel of Justice Isa Munir A Malik filed a petition seeking recusal of Justice Ahsan and Justice Tariq although no allegations of bias were levelled against them. The CJ then ordered a full court. The two judges and three members of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) –Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed—recused themselves. Thus the full court had ten members only as Justice Faez Isa was himself the petitioner.
The turn around by Justice Bandial in his late evening order adjourning the case hearing, therefore, appears to be a victory for the lawyers. There is no mention of reconstitution in the written order which means the full court stays in form to hear the case when the hearing resume.
The Law Today Pakistan, commonly known as TLTP, is the largest news wire service, headquartered in Islamabad. The service is providing fast, comprehensive and verified news on superior courts adjudications, regulatory framework of fiscal, monitory and external sectors, economic regulatory bodies amid apex institutions regulating the financial system. TLTP is empowering readers of more than 12 national English dailies in the country.