‘Justice Isa to challenge presidential reference in SC’

According to The News, Justice Qazi Faez Isa is likely to challenge the presidential reference against him. The presidential reference, a copy of which was shared with Justice Isa in June, accused him of hiding his property overseas under his children and spouse’s names. Justice Isa, in his reply to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) on June 28th, asserted that did not receive any notice regarding the alleged violation of the Section 116(1)(b) of Income Tax Ordinance 2001. He added that his children are not minors and neither his children nor his wife are his dependents. He also reiterated that Section 116(1)(b) is not penal provision.

The reference against Justice Isa and his subsequent reply to the SJC is understood better in the context of events preceding the filing of reference. In February this year, Justice Isa penned the Faizabad dharna judgment in which he indicted the military establishment of Pakistan in failing to put to rest the perception of its involvement in affairs beyond its mandate such as politicking and manipulation of media. Understandably, this judgment irked the military establishment, which has a history of using the legal fraternity to achieve its domestic political ambitions, Interestingly, Punjab Bar Council carried a resolution in April demanding the removal of Justice Isa on the basis that in its view Justice Isa ridiculed the armed forces in the Faizabad dharna judgment passed in February 2019. Because of Pakistani military’s history of manipulating the legal fraternity to achieve its objectives, it is plausible that the resolution put forth by the Punjab Bar Council was another addition to a long list of such manipulations. However, the Pakistan Bar Council, regulatory body of the affairs of the legal fraternity, rejected Punjab Bar Council’s request for immediate removal of Justice Isa and described the Punjab Bar Council’s resolution as “uncalled for, unnecessary that transgresses the independence of judiciary.”

The Punjab Bar Council’s failed resolution did not end Justice Isa’s trials, however. In late May this year, even before the reference was shared with Justice Isa, rumors started circulating about presidential reference against him. Justice Isa termed these rumors as “selective leaks” aimed at character assassination in a letter to the President seeking clarification regarding the rumored reference. After the media leaks, Additional Attorney General Zahid F. Ebrahim resigned in protest alleging that the filing of reference “is not about accountability of judges but is a reckless attempt to tar the reputation of independent individuals and could cause irreparable damage to the institution which is the protector of our fundamental rights and the bedrock of our fledgling democracy.” According to Dawn, legal observers believe that the current campaign against Justice Isa is a result of his strongly worded judgment in the Faizabad dharna case in which he directed the defence ministry and the chiefs of the army to take actions against personnel who violated their oath.

As the situation now stands, Justice Isa is likely to challenge the presidential reference against him in the Supreme Court by invoking article 184(3). According to The News, former attorney general for Pakistan Munir A. Malik has returned from California to plead the case of Justice Isa. Senior lawyers including Hamid Khan, Kamran Murtaza, Ali Ahmed Kurd, and Rashid A. Rizvi may be included in Justice Isa’s panel. The upcoming months will write the end of this saga involving Justice Isa, the legal fraternity, the government, and the Pakistani military. It remains to be seen how controversial, chaotic, and undermining that end will be for the integrity of judiciary in Pakistan.

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