The judiciary hates it when criticised in political rallies or on social media. But time and again the judiciary ends up making decisions of baffling arbitrariness.
It was reported on the eve of May 18 that a judge of the Supreme Court Mazahir Ali Akbar Naqvi had written to Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial a note, wherein he expressed concern at the transfer of some officers investigating “high-profile cases,” expressing concern that the government might attempt to influence these cases. Justice Naqvi was concerned because he had heard about the transfer on TV and social media.
Though he did not mention anything of the sort, a statement by the former prime minister was doing rounds on TV and social media blaming the incumbent government for the death of a former Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) investigating officer due to a heart condition three days before. The officer’s family hadn’t filed any first information report (FIR), nor did they accuse anyone of being behind his death. But when Imran Khan made the aforementioned remarks at a rally, many of his followers fell for it.
Justice was swift. Justice Naqvi hadn’t requested an urgent response, but the top judge decided to take a suo motu notice that same evening and fix the case for hearing the next day. It must be reasserted here that the note by Justice Naqvi had made no mention of the FIA officer’s death, but it did come up during the hearing.
Justice Naqvi, who had already spoken his mind through the note written to the chief justice, was also made part of the bench. The same judge had also embroiled himself in a controversy last year as a Lahore High Court (LHC) judge, when he refused to sign a decision by a two-member bench approving bail for Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz in the same “high-profile case” that he was writing this note about. It was a clear indication that he had already made up his mind regarding the case that he was now going to hear as an SC judge. Later, another bench of the LHC had to hear the case and approved the bail plea as NAB had failed to prove anything in three years. Interestingly, Justice Naqvi was also part of the bench that had binned the verdict against dictator Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf by declaring the Special Court illegal.
Then there’s Justice Munib Akhtar on the bench. He had made it to the Supreme Court only because former Chief Justice Saqib Nisar had misled the Judicial Commission, according to a recent letter written by Justice Qazi Faez Isa to Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, about judges senior to Justice Akhtar having ‘declined’ the appointment to Supreme Court. “The senior judges who were bypassed maintain that they were not informed that a junior judge to them was to be nominated, and that they had not declined, rather had demurred as a matter of courtesy to the Chief Justice”, Justice Isa wrote in his letter.
While commenting on the Arshad Malik episode, then chief justice Asif Saeed Khosa said “our heads hang in shame” but “the matter concerns the lower courts.” Now the same Supreme Court is seeking details of these “high-profile cases” being heard in the lower courts
Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar are also two of the judges who always make it to important benches hearing constitutional matters. Both Justices Gulzar and Bandial have preferred them over other senior judges like Justice Qazi Faez Isa, Justice Sardar Tariq Masood and now-retired Justice Maqbool Baqir. Justice Ijaz ul-Ahsan was also part of the Panama bench and was tasked to oversee the progress of the case in the lower judiciary, a move that went against all merits of the law. He does not seem to have taken into account how Judge Arshad Malik was blackmailed through an inappropriate video while overseeing one of the most ‘high-profile’ cases in our recent judicial history. Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Umar Ata Bandial were among the four judges who dissented in the Justice Qazi Faez Isa reference review.
Moreover, let’s not forget how brazenly institutions were used until recently to put political rivals behind bars with an aim to gag them – and even more importantly, how these activities seem to have slipped past the esteemed judiciary. Former FIA chief Bashir Memon claimed in an interview in October 2020 that he was pressurised by Imran Khan to forge cases against political rivals. He also alleged that he was pressurised to take action against Justice Isa. The ‘brother judges’ were unmoved. Then emerged an obscene video featuring the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chief. Unfortunately, none of these incidents managed to get the attention of the top court.
While commenting on the Arshad Malik episode, then chief justice Asif Saeed Khosa said “our heads hang in shame” but “the matter concerns the lower courts.” Now the same Supreme Court is seeking details of these “high-profile cases” being heard in the lower courts.
The apex court did not take notice when the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) booked Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Rana Sanullah on the charge of possessing 15 kilograms of heroin. He was later released on bail. SC overlooked the fact that the government was clearly using the anti-narcotics body to ‘fix’ its opponents. During the course of the hearing in Rana Sanaullah’s case, the judge who was about to grant him bail was transferred minutes before the bail plea hearing. The news of his transfer had reached the judge through a Whatsapp message – but the top court also ignored the prima facie effort to influence the course of justice.
The same court had ‘tasked’ Imran Khan to regularise his Bani Gala residence in the illegal property case despite having presented a shady document earlier in the case. It also chose to look the other way when former PM Imran Khan and President Arif Alvi walked free walked free in the anti-terrorism cases against them during their tenure, or when an army officer was caught leaving a court from its backdoor after ‘briefing’ a judge in a “high-profile case.”
But on the other hand, a suo motu was taken on the basis of a mere concern and a government that only took over five weeks ago was questioned about posts lying vacant for past two years.
What amazes one is that despite all these facts, the honourable members of our judiciary still continue to take strong exception when the judicial system is perceived as being politically partial.
The august judiciary must consider that country ranks 130th out of 139 nations in terms of delivering justice. There must be some reason!