Another Panama bench judge to retire next week

Sheikh Azmat Saeed to be remembered for historic judgment in 21 constitutional amendment case


Hasnaat Malik August 25, 2019
File photo of Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, who was part of the Supreme Court’s larger bench that heard the Panama Papers case in 2017, is set to retire on August 27.

Justice Saeed was appointed as an additional judge in the Lahore High Court (LHC) on December 1, 2004. On November 17, 2011, he took oath as the LHC chief justice and served as the high court’s top judge till May 31, 2012. He was elevated as a judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on June 1, 2012.

He remained part of several larger benches and wrote landmark judgments which will be remembered in judicial history. He was among those LHC judges who had refused to take oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) on November 3, 2007. After his elevation, he remained part of former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s bench and heard a number of high profile cases.

Former additional attorney general Waqar Rana believes that Justice Saeed has the ability to grasp complex legal questions straightaway and enunciate principles of law and constitution with clarity.

It has also been witnessed that Justice Saeed has the ability to keep the courtroom’s atmosphere pleasant through his great wit.

In 21st Constitutional Amendment case four years ago, he authored majority judgment, wherein salient features of the Constitution were laid down for the first time. Eight judges endorsed his opinion.

Justice Saeed had declared that democracy, parliamentary form of government and independence of the judiciary are the salient features of the Constitution.

The verdict said powers of the parliament to amend the Constitution are subject to implied limitations and the parliament, in view of Articles 238 and 239, is vested with the power to amend the Constitution as long as the salient features of the Constitution are not repealed, abrogated or substantively altered.

Legal experts believe that his verdict will be a hurdle in the way of those who want to introduce a presidential system in the country. In 2016, he also penned down as judgment endorsing trial of militants conducted by military courts. One section of lawyers disagreed with his view in that matter.

Last year, Justice Saeed authored a verdict wherein the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) was asked to reconsider its order about in-camera proceeding against superior courts judges.  He is also considered among those judges who developed jurisprudence on qualification/ disqualification of lawmakers.

Expanding the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction, Justice Saeed in his last year’s ruling has declared that it can initiate suo motu proceedings to examine the qualification of lawmakers.

He also held that allowing a disqualified person to become a member of parliament or of a provincial assembly would be considered as the apex court’s failure to protect and preserve the Constitution.

The judge while endorsing a larger bench’s order on lifetime disqualification of lawmakers under Article 62 (1) (f) also noted that the same constitutional provision must be interpreted with great care, caution, and respect.

He said the apex court is empowered to interpret the Constitution but not to amend it, adding that it is an equally elemental principle of interpretation of the Constitution that nothing can be added thereto.

“Therefore, we cannot read into Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution, a period of such lack of qualification, which is not mentioned therein,” he noted.

Panama case affected his reputation

Justice Saeed was part of the larger Panama Paper bench which disqualified former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on July 28, 2017. The judge also faced cardiac arrest during the hearing.

He was among the three judges who had differed from leading judge Asif Saeed Khosa’s view and formed a high powered Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to further probe into the matter.

The judge in his  April 20, 2017 verdict held that violation of legal obligation or breach of law is necessary for the applicability of Article 62 (1) (f). He was of the view that the Supreme Court is a court of law not a court of morality.

One section of lawyers believe that Panmaga case damaged the reputation of great judges like Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed. They believe that when the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) started a media campaign against judges and raised Whatsapp call issue,  Justice Saeed was among those judges, who gave a tough time to the PML-N leaders.

He was also leading the bench which disqualified the PML-N leader Danyal Aziz in a contempt case.

A lawyer said Panama episode has proved a graveyard for few judges whose integrity and impartiality were never questioned in the past. Justice Sheikh was also part of Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) which initiated proceedings of misconduct against the SC judge Qazi Faez Isa.

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