Retired judges and constitutional experts have rejected a suggestion that an even-numbered Supreme Court bench be made to hear a possible appeal by the prime minister against his conviction in the contempt of court case.
The suggestion was by the All Pakistan Lawyers Representatives at a meeting on Saturday.
Most experts also rejected the objection raised by the lawyers to ad-hoc appointments to the bench for hearing an appeal.
Justice (r) Wajihudin Ahmed and Justice (r) Nasira Javed Iqbal termed the lawyers’ suggestions as a bid by the Pakistan Peoples Party to muster support for Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani against the Supreme Court.
However, senior lawyer Abid Hasan Minto supported the objection against the ad-hoc appointment. He said a vacant seat on the SC bench should be filled before making ad-hoc appointments. He said it was in accordance with the SC verdict in the Al-Jehad Trust case. Minto said there was no point in forming an even-numbered bench.
Justice (r) Wajihudin Ahmed said in theory permanent vacancies should be filled before making ad-hoc appointments to the bench. However, he said, filling the permanent vacancy would take some time so ad-hoc judges could hear an appeal (by the prime minister) in the contempt-of-court case according to the Constitution. He said the Al-Jehad Trust case was not irrelevant to the current situation.
Justice (r) Nasira Javed Iqbal said ad-hoc appointments to fulfill quorum were allowed under Articles 181 and 182 of the Constitution. She said the resolution was a pressure tactic meant by PPP supporters to influence the SC’s judgment in case of an appeal. She said it was passed by lawyers who had been given hefty grants by former law minister Babar Awan. She said termed as childish the lawyers’ suggestion to form an even-numbered bench. She said only odd-numbered benches were formed in matters of critical importance.
Constitutional expert AK Dogar said ad-hoc appointments to the bench were required to fulfill quorum. He criticised the lawyers for playing politics over a legal matter.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had recently said that a nine member bench would hear a possible appeal by the government against the Supreme Court judgment in the contempt of court case. He was speaking at a gathering in Sibi. He said an additional and two ad-hoc judges would be included in the bench.
Only six SC judges are available to hear an appeal as the same seven judges on the bench that gave the contempt verdict cannot sit on a bench formed to hear the appeal. Of the other three, one is serving temporarily as the chief election commissioner, one is on medical leave and one has excused himself from sitting on the bench.
The lawyers had rejected the proposal of appointment of acting or ad-hoc judges to the SC to hear a possible appeal. They suggested that an eight-member bench could hear the appeal until Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali recovered from his illness and joined the bench.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2012.