A palpable sense of division among Supreme Court judges was ominous after two of their senior colleagues on Thursday expressed dismay over Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial’s speech marking the end of the summer vacations.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the new judicial year 2022-23 on Monday, the chief justice had mentioned the July 26 apex court decision, which declared Chaudhry Parvez Elahi as the chief minister of Punjab in the July 22 run-off poll, observing that the displeasure of the federal government on this decision became evident two days later at the JCP meeting on July 28.
Responding to the speech, Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Sardar Tariq Masood through a letter termed the chief justice’s remarks about the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and its current and several past office-bearers “uncalled for”.
“We have always endeavoured to avoid unnecessary controversy and present a united face of the institution of the Supreme Court to the nation. However, the address of Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial on September 12 took us back and left us dismayed," read the letter, the copies of have been sent to all JCP members.
The letter says that the object of the new judicial ceremony was to identify priorities for the coming judicial year, but the chief justice said much more. He sought to justify the decision of the apex court, respond to the criticism of the judgments and unilaterally speak on behalf of the top court when it does not comprise the chief justice alone, rather it includes all judges, it added.
The letter said that the chief justice made uncalled for and disparaging remarks about the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and its current and several past office-bearers, accusing them of political partnership because they had requested for the constitution of a full court bench in the deputy speaker’s case.
“The Supreme Court having declined their request, the CJP could not disparage and attribute motive to them,” it added. “But what was most inappropriate and unreasonable was to mention the working and decision of the Judicial Commission of Pakistan. The JCP is a separate and independent body.”
Both the judges said that under no circumstances should the chairman of the JCP say what was said.
“The CJP is the chairman of the JCP; therefore, he more than anyone else should abide by its decisions. It did not behove the chief justice to attack its members and do so publicly only because they did not support his candidates,” the letter stated.
It also stated that what the chief justice said was also contrary to the record. It is not correct that his candidates were supported by four JCP members which the unauthorised concerned release of the video recording confirms, it added.
It further stated that Justice Sarmad Jalal Osmani did not support all of his candidates, and it was further incorrect that the JCP meeting was adjourned.
“When the chairman did not succeed in achieving his objective, he took the majority decision of the JCP as a personal affront and walked out of the meeting," the letter mentioned.
It is also stated that all members of JCP are equal and the only additional responsibility of the CJP is to act as its chairman as the constitution also says that JCP by majority will nominate the judges.
"Though the CJP stated that constitutional institutions should not be undermined, violated or attacked, he himself undermined the JCP by refusing to accept the decision of the JCP,” the judges said.
They said that incidentally they are in minority in a number of JCP meetings, but they did not deliver a public address rebuking or casting aspersion or any member of the JCP.
"It is questionable whether we should commend ourselves for the number of cases decided when more than a third of the Supreme Court lies vacant, a full court would undoubtedly have decided more cases,” they pointed out.
The letter stated that they had repeatedly called upon the chairman of the JCP to convene a meeting both before and after the summer vacations to enable nominations to the SC.
“To stress the urgency, we had stated that not filing the vacancies is a reckless disregard of a constitutional duty. But all to no avail. The Supreme Court cannot be placed in suspended animation till such time that the members use the words of the CJP 'support the candidates proposed by the chairman',” it added.
At the end of the letter, both judges said that they were seated on the right and left of the CJP as he read out his address. “To maintain the decorum of the ceremony, we had remained quiet. However, since the CJP’s address was widely reported in the media, it has compelled us to clarify, lest our silence be misconstrued as consent,” they concluded.
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