After a meeting stretching over three and a half hours, the Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP) unanimously approved the recommendation to elevate Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah to the Supreme Court, gave a divided nod to two high court judges and dropped outright the suggestion regarding one candidate.
Consequently, the JCP, which was presided over by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, approved the candidature of Justice Shahid Waheed of the Lahore High Court and Justice Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi of the Sindh High Court (SHC) with a majority of five to four — both fourth on the seniority list of their respective courts — in a twist after two government representatives agreed to the proposal following earlier opposition to it.
The name of Justice Muhammad Shafi Siddiqui of the SHC was dropped from any further consideration.
Justice Qazi Faez Isa, Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) representative Akhtar Hussain had opposed the nomination of the three judges to the apex court. With Monday’s approval, the strength of the Supreme Court increases to 15 —two short to form a full court.
However, CJP Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, retired Justice Sarmad Jalal Osmany, Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Ashtar Ausaf and Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar supported the nominations.
The name of Justice Siddiqui — sixth in the seniority list of the SHC — was dropped from further consideration when during the meeting, retired Justice Osmany highlighted that Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi — SHC’s third most senior judge — was more competent and his performance far ahead of the others. The name of Justice Minallah was considered at the end of the meeting and approved unanimously.
The recommendations will now be taken up by the Parliamentary Committee of Parliament within 14 days of the JCP approval.
Most of the time during the heated discussion was consumed by debating why the same names had been proposed when the July 28 meeting of the commission had already disapproved them.
At one point, the AGP had to explain that he had suggested deferring the meeting on July 28 instead of clearly disapproving the candidatures.
Just days before the meeting, Justice Isa through yet another letter had requested the CJP to withdraw the names of three junior judges, which had already been rejected by the JCP on July 28.
In addition, the legal fraternity, including the PBC, Supreme Court Bar Association and the Sindh Bar Council, had earlier raised concerns over reconsideration for elevation to the Supreme Court the names of the three junior judges, months after the JCP had ‘rejected’ them, with the lawyers’ community vowing to challenge it even if it was approved by the commission on Monday.
Although the bar representatives had no objection to the IHC CJ’s nomination, they had expressed concerns over the nomination of other candidates. They had highlighted that these nominations, by-passing the seniority principle, would also demoralise other high court judges and adversely affect their work.
Monday’s meeting also discussed holding of a JCP meeting after formulating criteria on the appointment of superior court judges as soon as possible, besides proposing the rules committee should be headed by senior puisne judge Justice Qazi Faez Isa instead of the CJP.
During the last meeting of the rules committee on March 9, the CJP had expressed the desire for maintaining objectivity in the process of appointment of judges and stressed the need for setting out simple and straightforward criteria to make assessments, evaluations and then selections of judges for appointment to the high courts and Supreme Court.
The PBC – the regulatory body of lawyers – had been against any fresh elevation to the superior courts before carrying out amendments and developing criteria in the Judicial Commission of Pakistan Rules 2010.
Meanwhile, Sindh Bar Council (SBC) Vice Chairman Zulfiqar Jalbani rejected the nomination of what he called junior judges of the high courts, and demanded the JCP reconsider these nominations after framing criteria and amending the JCP rules on elevation of judges.
Talking to Dawn, he said such elevations should be made according to the Supreme Court judgement in the Al-Jihad Trust case, adding Monday’s recommendation was just favouritism and in case the JCP did not reconsider these suggestions, the SBC would launch a countrywide campaign against them.
He said the SBC was also considering challenging the nomination of junior judges before the apex court.