Can CJ Isa ensure judicial independence?

In the coming days, SC to take up cases with deep political implications

Hasnaat Malik June 20, 2024
Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa hearing a land dispute case on September 25, 2023. PHOTO: FILE


After the Eid vacations, all eyes are on the Supreme Court as it prepares to take up crucial cases with significant implications for national politics.

The judiciary's role is vital amid the ongoing confrontation between the security establishment and the PTI, which complains about alleged rigging in the February 8 general elections and human rights violations following the May 9, 2023 incidents.

There is no doubt that the February 8 election results have strained the relationship between the judiciary and the establishment. Some judges are raising concerns about spy agencies’ interference in judicial functions.

A division bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa, is set to hear the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) petition challenging the Lahore High Court’s (LHC) decision to appoint six more tribunals to settle election disputes in Punjab.

Instead of filing an intra-court appeal (ICA), the ECP has approached the SC against the decision of a single-member LHC bench. It will be interesting to see whether the bench insists on adjudicating the ICA in the LHC or decides the case itself.

Read: LHC CJ meets CJ Isa prior to new SC role

Several lawyers believe that since the matter involves interpreting the law regarding the consultation between the chief justice of a high court and the ECP on nominating election tribunals, a larger bench should hear the case, which is significant for both the executive and the PTI.

A full court led by CJ Isa will also resume hearing the Sunni Ittehad Council’s (SIC) petition next week against the Peshawar High Court’s (PHC) decision to uphold an ECP order denying reserved seats to the party, which primarily comprises PTI-backed lawmakers.

The outcome of these proceedings will impact national politics. If the SC upholds the ECP’s decision, reserved seats in parliament and provincial legislatures will be allocated to the ruling parties, including the JUI-F, enabling the government to pursue constitutional amendments.

A senior official confirmed to The Express Tribune that the government plans to extend the tenure of every superior court judge by two years. CJ Isa's January 13 ruling, which resulted in stripping the PTI of its election symbol, is also under scrutiny.

During the full-court hearing, the CJ is going to justify the January 13 order. CJ Isa's opinion will be crucial in the reserved seats case.

A seven-member larger bench led by CJ Isa is also hearing a suo motu case regarding agency interference in judicial functions. The matter has not been scheduled for hearing in the last couple of months, but it is expected that the larger bench will conclude the hearing before the summer vacations.

It will be interesting to see if the bench considers allegations by Sargodha Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) Judge Muhammad Abbas about the top agency’s interference in judicial functions. The LHC chief justice has already taken suo motu notice of the matter, but a written order from the last hearing is still awaited.

Read: CJP Isa faces heat over controversial ruling

Since October last year, the SC led by CJ Isa has been unable to decide appeals against a larger bench decision declaring the trials of civilians in military courts as unconstitutional. It is expected that the three-member SC committee led by CJ Isa will form a new larger bench to give a final decision on the matter during his tenure.

The government has also challenged in the SC the Islamabad High Court’s decision to acquit former prime minister Imran Khan and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in the cipher case. CJ Isa is likely to list this case for hearing during his term.

A five-member larger bench led by Justice Isa has reserved its judgment on a government ICA against a majority order declaring amendments in the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) as illegal.

The SC led by CJ Isa has also reserved its decision on a Punjab government petition seeking review of its February 6 judgment that overturned appellant Mubarak Ahmad Sani’s conviction on charges of distributing “proscribed literature”.

Imran Khan has also requested the SC to hear PTI petitions about alleged rigging in recent elections and human rights violations after the May 9 incidents. It will also be a significant test for CJ Isa and the Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP) regarding the nomination of the new chief justice of the LHC.

The establishment is very upset over one section of judges who are questioning the executive’s interference in judicial proceedings. All eyes are now on CJ Isa to see how he, as head of the judiciary, secures its independence.


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