ISALMABAD: The country’s top court on Wednesday directed the chief legal officer to provide evidence to back his statement wherein he had implied that some members of the bench hearing the pleas challenging the presidential reference against Justice Qazi Faez Isa were “privy” to the petition filed by the judge.
A 10-judge full court led by Justice Umar Ata Bandial also came down hard on Attorney General for Pakistan Anwar Mansoor Khan for not turning up adequately prepared to plead the federal government’s case against Justice Isa, who faces allegations of hiding the foreign assets of his family.
The court told the AGP to substantiate the claim he had made a day earlier or tender a written apology.
In his opening remarks on Tuesday, the attorney general had stated: “I try to act with some grace. I am aware in [sic] my personal knowledge and I say this because there was [an] unprecedented attack on [a] few judges before this court for them to recuse earlier which I thought was not fair thing. It was try to find a convenient court. It is in my personal knowledge as [to] how this petition was drafted and who was privy to this petition, my lords but despite this, I will not object to anyone sitting on [sic] this court. I am not going to object [to] anyone. This is [a] fact.”
The AGP was forced to retract his statement as it drew the ire of the judges. The court had also restrained the media from reporting the matter.
However, the court on Wednesday decided to take up the matter. The bench assembled 20 minutes late than the usual time.
During the hearing, the judges took exception to the AGP’s lack of preparation to argue the case.
“Where it is required that the judge [petitioner] should disclose his family assets in his wealth statement,” Justice Bandial asked the attorney general, telling him to explain how a violation of the code of conduct had been committed.
“Instead of inquiring from the owners of the properties, why did you come up straightaway against the judge,” he added.
However, the AGP was unable to provide a satisfactory response to the queries.
“Do you know this is lack of preparation and you are wasting the court’s time,” remarked Justice Bandial, who looked visibly upset.
He reminded the AGP that unlike in an FIR, there was a need to explain in a reference as to how a judge had violated his code of conduct.
The judge wondered if the government’s side had examined the case during the last six months. The petitioners’ side, he added, had already explained as to how the code of conduct had not been violated.
Justice Faisal Arab asked the AGP if a reference should be filed against a judge for not disclosing the assets of family in his wealth statement.
Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah inquired under what law had the authorities collected material against a judge.
Justice Maqbool Baqar asked the attorney general if the judge had breached the law.
Justice Sajjad Ali Shah sought details about the incident which had led the government to file a reference against Justice Isa.
The AGP argued that once the Supreme Judicial Council had taken cognisance of the matter and issued a show-cause notice, the apex court could not intervene in it under Article 211 of the Constitution.
However, the bench told him that the petitioner had raised an objection on the process of how material was collected against him. The AGP was again unable to respond to the bench.
Justice Bandial later asked the chief legal officer to file written arguments first but the latter expressed inability to do so.
It has been learnt that the government was considering replacing the AGP. A senior PTI lawyer told The Express Tribune that the government was searching for a new chief legal officer but could not find a better option.
Renowned lawyer Makhdoom Ali Khan has already turned down the offer to take over the position. Naeem Bukhari, another renowned lawyer, is also not interested.
The senior PTI lawyer said a few names were under consideration to replace the incumbent AGP.
However, a senior official said a change was unlikely anytime soon. One section within the PTI is active against the incumbent legal team of the government since November last year. It believes that current team is neither making progress in key matters pending in courts, nor helping in developing a cordial relationship between the PTI-led government and superior bars.
The Pakistan Bar Council has decided to file a contempt petition against the AGP and Law Minister Dr Farogh Naseem over the chief legal officer’s statement.
It will be filed through PBC Vice Chairman Abid Saqi on Thursday (today).
The proposed petition read that the AGP had intentionally made the statement before the court which was proof that the process of “surveillance of judges” was still under way.
It further stated that if there was any truth in his statement, the AGP would not have remained silent for 133 days. “The AGP’s statement was an attempt to pressure, threaten and blackmail the Supreme Court.
The PBC noted in the petition that the law minister was also present in the court when the AGP passed the remarks.
“As the law minister, neither did he stop the AGP nor did he intervene.”
The PBC also observed that the AGP had mentioned about the “mental illness” of a SC judge in his rejoinder.
“Such people are in a habit to ridicule judges on not getting the decisions of their choice,” the proposed petition read.
The petition seeks contempt proceedings against the AGP and law minister as well as the officials of federal government who had advised the chief legal officer on the matter.
Separately, the Supreme Court Bar Association has demanded the AGP’s resignation over his anti-judiciary remarks.
SCBA President Syed Qalbe Hassan regretted that the top legal officer in the country had given such a statement against judges without presenting any evidence.
“The AGP’s remarks are tantamount to not only undermining the people’s trust in the judiciary, but also to contempt of court,” he added.