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October 25, 2020

Illegal actions

Editorial

 
October 25, 2020

A full bench of the Supreme Court has strongly struck down the reference filed against Justice Qazi Faez Isa, on the grounds that it had mala-fide intent and insufficient evidence. The court has ordered that the reference be quashed and all charges essentially withdrawn. In legal terms, there is always the option that the Supreme Judicial Court could take up the matter suo motu, but this is unlikely, and has never happened before in Pakistan's history. Essentially, we have a situation in which the government has been declared to have acted unlawfully and Justice Isa declared entirely innocent. The detailed judgment states that there's no evidence that Justice Isa held any assets overseas, and that he could not be declared responsible for any held by his adult children. It was also noted that no tax notice had ever been issued to his wife and yet her tax records were brought under scrutiny before the court. The Supreme Court has rebuked the president of Pakistan, the prime minister and the law minister for filing such a reference, noting that such references can have a dramatic impact on the career of a judge.

The reasons behind the reference are fairly well-established. Analysts and legal observers have said that it is no small thing to bring a major reference against a senior judge, and then fail to provide any evidence to the court regarding the actions he is alleged to have committed. There have been musings too that morality demands that the president of Pakistan and other members who played a key role in putting together the case that collapsed under judicial scrutiny of the highest court in the land should be considering their positions. It is obviously not fair play to try and damage a judge in any way or to hurt his interests. The Supreme Court has given the government a fairly severe dressing down. Certainly we have all learnt how easy it can be for governments and those who support them to try and change developments in a country or to punish those who are not liked or not respected for one reason or the other.

There is also another view of the full judgment. There are some serious lawyers and legal analysts who have said that the verdict has essentially opened the door for past action and personal lives of judges as well as their families to be scrutinised and then even be used as grounds for declaring judicial misconduct, even if said actions were prior to them becoming judges. The purpose of the case though seemed to be to scare Justice Isa. That did not work. The Supreme Court has declared its dismay with the lack of evidence put before it on the matter for foreign assets, taxes, money laundering, and other offences. We hope there will never be a repetition of such action against any member of the judiciary in the country. We also hope that the reservations by some that this judgment leaves room for using excuses to malign and go after judges are cleared up and we see more detailed analyses of it.