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ISLAMABAD: Justice Umar Ata Bandial said it is the prerogative of the chief justice of Pakistan to constitute benches.

Justice Bandial gave this view, while addressing the Full Court Reference held on Friday on the retirement of Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin, who laid down his robes upon attaining the age of superannuation.

The CJP expressed grave concern over the “unnecessary” criticism directed at him, saying the prerogative to constitute benches historically lay with the chief justice. He said the chief justice had been forming benches for the last 20 years. “Why are objections raised without any reason?”

Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan, Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) Vice-Chairman Hafeezur Rehman Chaudhry and President Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) Ahsan Bhoon, also addressed on the occasion. They paid tribute to outgoing judge, Justice Amin.

The SCBA chief in his speech, citing Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s letter, said that there is an element of division in the judiciary. He said the Bar give weightage to the opinion of Justice, expressed in his letter, that the appointment of officers from executive in the Supreme Court is against the principle of independence of the judiciary.

Justice Bandial said it is the chief justice who decides which case will be fixed for hearing and which bench will take it up. “If someone has an objection, come and talk to me.” “Judges must not be targeted on the basis of hearsay since they cannot respond to criticism. One can criticise the judgments, but not the judges,” he added.

The SC most senior puisne judge, Justice Isa, two days ago, wrote a three-page letter to the CJP, Bandial. He questioned the formation of benches without incorporating senior judges. Justice Isa had pointed out that the composition of the five-judge bench that is hearing a presidential reference on Article 63(A) of the Constitution consisted of judges who were 4th, 8th, and 13th in the seniority list of the court.

“This has been done by discarding the good practice of structuring the CJP’s discretion by predecessors of constituting benches consisting of senior-most judges when cases involved important constitutional questions,” he had said.

“There is no discernible criterion in the constitution of the present bench,” the letter said, adding that this was “most troubling and gave rise to unnecessary and avoidable misgivings”. He also criticised the appointment of the incumbent SC Registrar.

Justice Bandial also maintained that judges in the Supreme Court were very competent and professional. “Procedures for appointment of judges are being worked out unanimously,” the CJP said, adding that the criterion for [appointment of judges] was based on “competence, conduct, and excellent reputation”.

The CJP said the judges took decisions on the basis of their conscience. “We are all accountable to Allah, whatever is said in public is only for the media. Judges cannot be targeted without proof.”

Justice Bandial said the registrar of the Supreme Court had complete understanding of the law and administrative affairs. “Do you want me to do administrative work too?” he asked, purportedly responding to the criticism of the apex court’s registrar’s appointment and his handling of administrative matters. He also called upon critics [of the judiciary] to talk about “useful knowledge” and shun criticism of judges.

PBC vice-Chairman Hafeezur Rehman Chaudhry said the decision of Justice Qazi Amin in the case of Justice Isa had raised concerns in the bar. He said some judgments of Justice Amin in criminal cases were considered contrary to the Constitution.

Hafeez said everyone knew “how history remembers judges from Justice Munir to Justice Gulzar”. Without naming anyone, he said some judges acted like civil servants. He further said that some parties were not given a fair chance of hearing at the top court. “For many years, cases are not fixed in the Supreme Court and they eventually become ineffective,” he added.

He warned that the institution would suffer “irreparable damage” due to division within judges in the wake of the current situation.

Hafeez said all eyes were on the Supreme Court, adding that the apex court must take decisions that upheld the supremacy of the Constitution.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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