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Sunday February 25, 2024

All bound to abide by laws enacted by Parliament, says CJP

3-member bench, headed by CJP, comprising Justice Khan, Justice Minallah, reserved verdict after hearing arguments of AGP and petitioner

By Ag & Sohail Khan
September 28, 2023
Motorists drive past Pakistans Supreme Court in Islamabad on April 5, 2022. — AFP
Motorists drive past Pakistan's Supreme Court in Islamabad on April 5, 2022. — AFP

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) Wednesday reserved its verdict on a petition related to Right To Information seeking information about its staff as well as recruitments made to fill the vacant positions in the apex court.

A three-member SC bench, headed by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa, and comprising Justice Aminuddin Khan and Justice Athar Minallah, reserved the verdict after hearing arguments of the Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) and the petitioner. The CJP remarked that all, including the apex court, were bound to abide by the laws made by the parliament, but the petitioner had raised very complex legal points in the current case. He remarked that the court would also examine the practice being adopted in this regard by other countries in the world. It directed the petitioner as well as AGP Mansoor Usman Awan to submit replies to the queries asked by the bench within two weeks. In 2019, one Mukhtar Ahmed Ali filed a petition in the apex court under the Right To Information (RTI) law to demand information about the staff of apex court and the recruitments made to fill in the vacant positions there.

The registrar of the Supreme Court had filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court through Additional Attorney General Chaudhry Aamir Rehman against the Commission’s July 12, 2021 order, which directed the SC registrar to share with the appellant the requested information at the earliest, but not later than 20 working days of the receipt of the order. The SC registrar had contended before the IHC that the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) could not pass such an order regarding constitutional courts as its jurisdiction was confined only to those departments that are established under statute or law.

On Wednesday, the petitioner Mukhtar Ahmed Ali appeared before the court in person while Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa asked the petitioner as to why he was seeking this information. The petitioner replied that he had sought the details under the Right to Information (RTI) Act adding that although he was not bound to give the reasons but he could explain why he sought such details. The Chief Justice agreed to the petitioner’s answer but said that he just wanted to know for his own knowledge. The petitioner submitted that he was working on the transparency of the country’s institutions which is why he sought the details about the apex court also. Attorney General Mansoor Usman Awan submitted that the SC registrar had challenged the order of the PIC in Islamabad High Court and a single bench had given its decision against which the petitioner had filed an appeal in the apex court.

Chief Justice raised a question that if the PIC asked for making public details of judges’ private families one day, then what would happen? Whether it would be ignored or could be challenged. Justice Athar Minallah, while adding the question, asked as to whether the order of PIC would be challenged by the family members of the judges or the Supreme Court itself. The petitioner submitted that the PIC order was challenged in the Islamabad High Court by the SC registrar through Additional Attorney General Chaudhry Aamir Rehman. The Attorney General, to a court query, submitted that the SC registrar had hired the services of Chaudhry Aamir Rehman not in a government capacity. The AG, while replying to a court query, submitted that under Article 19-A of the Constitution, the SC had no immunity with respect to the Access to Information Act 2017.

He submitted that the Supreme Court could make amendments to its rules in the public interest and appoint an officer who could provide information to the public on demand. The Attorney General submitted that the court could regulate the process of providing information to the public but could not refuse the information. At this, Justice Athar Minallah asked the AG as to whether the independence of the judiciary would not be affected while seeking information about it. Whether the armed forces of Pakistan are also bound to provide information under the Access to Information Act 2017, Justice Athar Minallah asked the AG. The AG, however, replied that under this law, the armed forces could not be asked to share information. At this, Justice Minallah remarked as to whether it is not against Article 19-A of the Constitution when access to information could not be applied there. Later, the court reserved the verdict on the matter.

In another case, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) withdrew its review petition against the judgment, delivered by the Supreme Court in a suo moto case on the Faizabad sit-in in 2019. The regulatory body filed a civil miscellaneous application (CMA) through its chairman under Order XXXIII Rule 6 of the Supreme Court Rules 1980 for permission to withdraw its civil review petition.

A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa and comprising Justice Aminuddin Khan and Justice Athar Minallah, would hear the review petitions on Thursday (today) against its judgement in the Faizabad sit-in case. Filed through AoR Muhammad Sharif Janjua, Pemra submitted that the authority wanted to withdraw its review petition, and did not want to pursue the matter. It prayed to the apex court to allow withdrawal of the review petition. Earlier, the Intelligence Bureau had also withdrawn its review petition. Similarly, Advocate Amanullah Kanrani, counsel for the petitioner Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, sought adjournment in the review petitions hearing, fixed for Sept 28. In another case, the SC ordered for publishing on the FBR [Federal Board of Revenue] website of all notifications issued for taxpayers. The court issued the orders during the hearing of the review petition pertaining to the re-assessment of the tax amount. The court expressed resentment over the legal officer of the revenue department in Peshawar. CJP Qazi Faez Isa remarked that powers for the reassessment of tax rested with the commissioner revenue. “How can the deputy commissioner exercise this power. Too much haste is shown in filing appeals in the SC. Then it is said the SC has entangled revenue cases. When cases are run, then the court is not assisted,” the CJP remarked. The court, while rejecting the review petition of Peshawar revenue, imposed Rs10,000 on the legal officer of the revenue department for wasting court time. The amount of fine be paid to any charity of own choice and receipt thereof would be submitted in the court.

Meanwhile, two more respondents submitted their comments to the top court in a case pertaining to ‘The Supreme Court Practice and Procedure Act 2023. President Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) Abid Zubairi took the stance in his answer that the act was a violation of fundamental rights and petitions against it were maintainable. He said that the law was also against the freedom of the judiciary. He prayed to the court to terminate the act while declaring it against the Constitution.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Niazullah Niazi also submitted his comments and stated that the act had deprived the chief justice of Pakistan of his constitutional mandate. He said that the right of appeal in cases of Article 184/3 could be given only through the constitutional amendment. A two-thirds majority in the Parliament was compulsory for an amendment to the constitution, he added.

Also, an appeal was moved in the SC, challenging the termination of a case against PTI Chairman Imran Khan pertaining to speeches against the state institutions. Petitioner Abdul Khaleel Kakar challenged the verdict of the Balochistan High Court (BHC). It said that the PTI chairman had not joined the investigation, but the police had filed a challan against him in the court. The petition stated that the BHC had announced the verdict apparently against the facts. The PTI chairman had approached the BHC to quash the FIR and terminate the arrest warrants against him. In yet another case, the SC rejected a petition of a man for reconsideration of the decision to declare the daughter of his deceased brother as the heir to the property. A three-member bench, headed by CJP Qazi Faez Isa, heard the petition in which one Munir Hussain, a resident of Talagang, claimed the distribution of property after the death of his brother and declared her brother’s daughter as step-daughter, claiming that she was not entitled to inheritance. The court rejected the uncle’s review petition and also ordered the revenue authorities to implement the earlier decision.