The Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP) by a majority five to four votes did not approve the elevation of high court judges, nominated by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, to the Supreme Court. The five judges of the high courts were under consideration for the apex court.
The JCP is responsible for approving the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and five high courts of the country. The CJP also heads the commission as its chairman.
SC Judges Qazi Faez Isa, Sardar Tariq Masood, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Ashtar Ausaf Ali and Pakistan Bar Council representative Akhtar Hussain did not approve the CJP nominations. They supported the seniority principle.
Justice Isa attended the JCP meeting from Spain and AGP Ashtar participated from the United States via video link.
CJP Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah and Justice Sardar Jalal Osmani voted in favour of the five nominees.
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When the majority did not approve CJP nominees through voting, the CJP along with Justice Ijazul Ahsan left the meeting without announcing the future course of action, sources told to The Express Tribune.
The majority JCP members recommended the CJP consider the nominee from the Islamabad High Court and also raised questions as to why senior three Sindh High Court judges were not considered.
Meanwhile, an official statement issued following the meeting said that names of all five judges proposed by the CJP were considered by the JCP.
“After detailed discussion, it was proposed by the Chairman JCP to defer the meeting in order to enable the Hon’ble Chief Justice of Pakistan to place additional information and data about those already proposed and if he considers appropriate, add more names to the list of nominees for consideration by the JCP,” it added.
The proposal to defer the meeting was supported by Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, Justice (retd) Sarmad Jalal Osmany and the AGP.
It was accordingly decided to defer the meeting. The date of the next meeting will be communicated to the members of the body by the JCP chairman, read the communiqué.
The JCP comprises four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, the former judge, a federal law minister, the attorney general for Pakistan and a senior advocate nominated by the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC).
One representative each is nominated by the provincial and Islamabad bar councils. According to Article 175-A of the Constitution, the JCP, after confirmation, will propose the names to the parliamentary committees for the appointment of judges in the superior courts.
Controversy and rising criticisms
It is noteworthy that the anticipated JCP meeting had earned vehement criticisms from within the legal fraternity that smells “favouritism” in the appointments and has demanded a restructuring of the laws pertaining to appointments of the judges and the discretionary powers enjoyed by the CJP.
On Tuesday, senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court Justice Qazi Faez Isa had advised CJP Umar Ata Bandial not to bulldoze the “due” process for appointment of more than one-third of the total number of judges in the apex court.
In a letter written to the Judicial Commission of Pakistan, headed by CJP Bandial, Justice Isa deplored the manner of summoning the JCP’s meeting to consider the elevation of high court judges to the Supreme Court.
Justice Isa said it was surprising that the JCP’s meeting had been convened to consider the appointment of five top court judges during summer vacations. Justice Isa stated in the letter that “while on my annual leave I received a WhatsApp message from the Additional Registrar of the Supreme Court informing me that the Hon’ble Chief Justice of Pakistan has convened a meeting of the JCP on 28 July 2022 to consider appointing five judges to the Supreme Court.
Also read: Justice Isa pens letter against CJP Bandial's summoning of JCP meeting
“When availing of annual leave no meeting of the JCP was scheduled but as soon as I left Pakistan the CJP decided to hold two meetings of the JCP to consider appointments to the Sindh and Lahore High Courts, and now a third unscheduled meeting of the JCP is to be held during the summer vacations of the apex court.
He stressed the need that “all appointments must be made in accordance with the Constitution, on the basis of predetermined and non-discriminatory criteria. And above all without any impression of favouritism. The Constitution does not grant the CJP any powers additional to those of the other members of the JCP; the CJP is only designated as the Chairman of the JCP.”
It is pertinent to note that the JCP meeting was held on June 28, a day after Justice Isa’s three-page letter criticised the meeting and called for its postponement until the scheduled vacations of the court were over.