In landmark hearing, Pakistan Supreme Court quashes case against senior judge

  • Government reference over undeclared assets was seen as pitting judiciary against government and armed forces
  • In ruling the reference against Justice Qazi Faez Isa invalid, the court said it had “no legal effect whatsoever”

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a presidential reference against Justice Qazi Faez Isa, in a case widely seen as pitting the country’s judiciary against its government and powerful armed forces.

Ruling that the reference was invalid, the court said in its judgment: “(It) is declared to be of no legal effect whatsoever and stands quashed.

The reference, filed by the government in May last year, alleged that between 2011 and 2015, Isa acquired three London properties on lease in the name of his wife and children but did not disclose them in his wealth returns.

Isa denied the allegation, saying he was not a beneficial owner of the apartments, directly or indirectly. In a petition filed against the reference, he argued that the Asset Recovery Unit constituted by the government to investigate his family’s properties was illegal and operated without any legal standing, and therefore any actions taken by the unit against him and his family were also illegal and without legal effect. The petition said the names and property details of Isa’s family were gathered through illegal surveillance.

Isa’s wife gave her statement to the court on Thursday via video link, in which she provided the money trail for the purchase of the three properties in London. The details of her accounts were available from the State Bank of Pakistan, she said.

The court instructed her to present the documents to the tax authorities.

“I must tell you one thing: we, as judges, are answerable for our actions in private and public life,” Justice Umar Ata Bandial, one of the presiding judges, told Isa’s wife.

“Therefore we are much more accountable than other people, as we are holding other people accountable. This is not the trial of your husband, and yours as well, but the trial of our institution (the judiciary).”

In February last year, the Supreme Court, and Isa in particular, came under fire for passing a verdict that warned the military and intelligence agencies not to exceed their mandate by meddling in politics. This was seen as a rebuke over security agencies’ handling of protests by a religious party in 2017.

The judges’ comments were a rare public rebuke for the nation’s powerful armed forces, which have ruled Pakistan for nearly half of its history and have in recent years been criticized for returning to a more active role in its politics. The army has repeatedly denied any interference.

The Supreme Court had been investigating the so-called “Faizabad protest,” during which the capital Islamabad was paralyzed by a hard-line religious group that accused a minister of blasphemy.

It also examined the role of the security agencies, including their part in ending the standoff through mediation. The army’s role in particular attracted criticism after video footage shared on social media showed a senior officer giving cash to protesters after a deal was struck to end the blockade.

“The involvement of ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) and of the members of the Armed Forces in politics, media and other ‘unlawful activities’ should have stopped,” according to the verdict, which was authored by Isa and another judge. “Instead, when (protest) participants received cash handouts from men in uniform, the perception of their involvement gained traction.”

Social-media campaigns unleashed fury on Isa for the judgment, and in May last year reports emerged on social media and TV news channels that President Arif Alvi had filed a reference against the judge over undisclosed assets.

The same month, additional attorney general of Pakistan Zahid F. Ebrahim resigned, describing the reference as a “reckless attempt to tar the reputation of independent individuals and browbeat the judiciary of Pakistan.”

The Sindh High Court Bar Association said the reference was “malicious” and had the aim of “undermining the independence of the judiciary and rule of law.”

The government confirmed on June 2 that it had filed the reference.

In 2018, Pakistan’s government dismissed a High Court judge who accused a spy agency of interfering in judicial proceedings to influence the July 2018 election, following an investigation demanded by the military.

Source: Arab News

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