Amid tensions, SC cancels full court reference in judge's honour

Latest cancellation triggers discussion about whether CJP trying to avoid 'criticism'


Hasnaat Malik August 11, 2022
Supreme Court of Pakistan. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

ISLAMABAD:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday cancelled its full court reference in honour of Justice Syed Sajjad Ali Shah scheduled to be held on Thursday (today) at the request of the judge himself.

Moreover, the farewell dinner in his honour has also been scaled down which shall now be held in the judges' colony, said a notification issued by the SC PR cell.

The cancellation, which comes amid brewing tensions and conflicts among the SC judges, has triggered speculations about whether the incumbent CJP was trying to emulate policies adopted by former chief justices — Irshad Hassan Khan and Sheikh Riaz — of holding farewell events privately to avoid bar criticism.

Many in the legal fraternity have said that the decision to cancel yet another full court reference was reminiscent of the policies of the former CJPs, tenures of whom were marked by farewell dinners being held in local hotels, wherein only 'like-minded' lawyers were invited.

While the tradition of delivering speeches in honour of the retiring judge was still intact, the representatives of bars would not attend those functions, sparing the apex court of potential criticism.

However, later, ex-CJP Nazim Hussain Siddiqui resuscitated the tradition of holding the event within the premises of the apex court. He had firmly endorsed the view that the bars should be allowed to criticise in the public.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, a lawyer said the cancellation of such functions may have a negative impact on the image of the judiciary.

The relationship between bench and bar is already tense on the appointment of SC judges.

Similarly, a special bench led by Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial had turned down the request of six Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) presidents, who personally appeared before the bench requesting to form a full court to decide the matter regarding the deputy speaker Punjab Assembly Sardar Dost Mazari ruling wherein ten votes of PML-Q MPAs were discarded.

It is noteworthy that following the restoration of the judiciary in March 2009, full court references were held in honour of every retiring judge.

However, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), led by the Independent Lawyers Group, had refused to give farewell dinners in honour of former chief justices Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry as well as Jawad S Khawaja. However, all official functions were arranged in their honour.

During the tenure of ex-CJP Mian Saqib Nisar, a full court reference was not held in honour of retiring judge Justice Dost Muhammad Khan on his personal request.

The bar representatives claim that Justice Dost Muhammad Khan was unhappy as he was not given a bench to preside during his tenure. However, one section of lawyers had revealed that ex-CJP Nisar did not entertain his request in a matter.

Similarly, in August last year, no full court reference was held in honour of retiring judge Mushir Alam.

The official statement said that the reference was cancelled on account of coronavirus. But it was an open secret that the superior bars were upset due to his endorsement of the nomination of a Sindh High Court junior judge – Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar. The SCBA had also decided not to host a farewell dinner in his honour.

Last year, a full court reference was held in honour of retiring judge Manzoor Ahmed Malik. However, he requested SCBA to cancel the farewell dinner in his honour on account of coronavirus. It is also a fact that the relationship between the bar and Justice Malik was cordial throughout his tenure.

Last month, the full court reference was cancelled in honour of Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel on his request as he was unwell.

Although the bar was happy with Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel's conduct especially his opinions regarding the interpretation of Article 63 A of the Constitution as well as deputy speaker National Assembly Qasim Suri's ruling. Even he visited the bar on his last working day.

Now, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah has requested the CJP to cancel the full court reference. SCBA already expressed its inability to give a farewell dinner in his honour as several bar representatives are out of the country. Even SCBA President Ahsan Bhoon is abroad.

However, Pakistan Bar Council Vice Chairman Chaudhry Hafeez came from Lahore to attend the full court reference.

A senior member of the bar revealed to The Express Tribune that the lawyers are annoyed with the retiring judge on account of his endorsement of the five nominees' elevation to the SC 15 days before his retirement.

When bars expressed serious reservations over these nominees then Justice Shah should have recused to give opinion during the Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP) meeting.

Presently, both lawyers groups are expressing concern over the nomination of junior judges to the SC. Hamid Khan head of Professional Lawyers Group accused that "pro-establishment" judges are being elevated to the SC.

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