Newly-appointed AGP recuses himself from representing govt in Justice Isa case

Hearing adjourned till March 30


Hasnaat Malik February 24, 2020
Justice Qazi Faez Isa. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: A day after his appointment, the state’s top law officer has recused himself from defending a presidential reference that seeks removal of Supreme Court Judge Qazi Faez Isa for not disclosing his family members’ foreign assets in his wealth statement.

Khalid Javed Khan was appointed as the new attorney general for Pakistan (AGP) on Sunday in place of Anwar Mansoor Khan, who handed in his resignation last week after a courtroom faux pas.

While defending the presidential reference, Anwar had accused some judges of the 10-judge full court – hearing a slew of petitions against the presidential reference against Justice Isa – of knowing Justice Isa’s petition in advance.

The comment had not gone down well with the bench which had asked Anwar either to prove his claim with evidence or tender an apology. The government had immediately distanced itself from statement of Anwar Mansoor Khan, who, according to some sources, was later forced to resign.

When the same 10-jduge full court resumed hearing of the case on Monday, the new AGP, Khalid Javed Khan, came to the rostrum and said it would be unfair for the government to plead the case by him as he held a conflicting opinion on the matter.

However, head of the bench Justice Umar Ata Bandial told the new AGP that the court expected that the newly appointed AGP would apply his mind to the case.

According to some sources, the new AGP was part of initial consultation with the Justice Isa’s legal team about maintainability of the presidential reference.  Even one petitioner bar had also approached him to argue its case against the reference but he could not commit due to some domestic issues.

Before his appointment, AGP Khan had conveyed to Prime Minister Imran Khan that he could not represent the federation in this matter.  However, the PM had not objected to his condition.

Sources in the AGP office revealed to The Express Tribune that Khalid has deputed one senior law officer to look into the Justice Isa case and told him not to seek his opinion on the matter.

However, the bench's expectation from the AGP to apply his mind is significant.  Different lawyers are interpreting this demand differently. It has already been revealed that legal opinion of incumbent AGP is contradictory to the Ministry of Law.

A senior lawyer said if the government seeks new AGP’s opinion then he may recommend that the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) should issue notice to Justice Isa’s spouse about non-disclosure of foreign properties in her wealth statement before pleading reference against the judge.

However, he said, it is premature to say anything in presence of incumbent Minister for Law Dr Farogh Naseem, who is considered the mastermind behind this reference  that was filed in May 2019.

During the hearing on Monday, the new AGP said he would do his best to live up to the high up to expectations of the court.

The AGP submitted in categorical terms that his dominant objective is supremacy of the Constitution, rule of law, independence and integrity of the judiciary as well as each member of the institution.

"If I ever entertained slightest of doubt about this, I would not be standing here."

He also referred to the concise statement submitted by Additional Attorney General Chaudhry Amir Rehman wherein the government sought three weeks adjournment after resignation by former AGP.

Later, Minister for Law Dr Farogh Naseem came to the rostrum and stated that though he has been impleaded as a private respondent in this case, he should be allowed to submit the federal government’s stance.

However, Justice Qazi Amin Khan wondered how he could plead the government case while holding portfolio of a minister in view of the Legal Practitioners Act.

The Supreme Court Bar Association President Syed Qalb-e-Hassan also appeared before the bench and wondered how Naseem could appear and plead cases before the court as an advocate after rejoining the federal cabinet as law minister.

“The moment he did so [took oath as minister], the operation of his practicing certificate stood suspended in view of Rule 108-O of the Pakistan Legal Practitioners & Bar Councils Rules, 1976.

“Resultantly, he cannot appear as an advocate in any court to plead and conduct cases. He can do so only if he leaves the office of the federal law minister and gets permission of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) for restoration of the operation of his practicing certificate,” he said.

Justice Bandial noted that both the AGP and law minister are not the leading counsel in the case. He said if the government could not hire any counsel then the court will not grant any adjournment.

“We will ask Additional Attorney General Chaudhry Amir Rehman to argue the case as he attended all hearings and knows about all issues raised by the petitioners’ side,” he noted.

Later, the court accepting the government’s plea adjourned the case till March 30.

Contempt case

The PBC Vice Chairman Abid Saqi requested the court to direct its office to allot number to his contempt petition against former AGP and the law minister over unwarranted statement against the bench.

Justice Bandial referred to some verses from the Holy Quran and asked Saqi to practice ‘forgiveness’. Saqi said he has no personal grudge against anyone but it was a matter of concern that judges and their family members were spied on.

“If an elected prime minister can be disqualified in a contempt case then no one should be spared.”

Saqi requested the SC that at least the respondents should be issued a notice to submit their reply over his contempt petition.

After consultation with other judges, Justice Bandial told Saqi that his contempt petition will be taken up on the next date of hearing [March 30]. However, he said, judges are not sanctified as they live this world and they have to face criticism on their judgments.

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