Thursday, February 25, 2021

Why did IHC dismiss petition against Justice Azmat Saeed’s appointment?

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The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday dismissed the petition filed against the recent appointment of retired Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed as head of the one-man commission constituted to probe the controversy related to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the UK-based asset recovery firm, Broadsheet LLC.

When IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah took up the matter, the petitioner, Saleemullah Khan, refused to argue the case saying that he did not want the IHC bench to hear the matter. He also wrote a note that the petition be fixed before Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri or Justice Babar Sattar only.

The chief justice noted that previously, in his personal cases, Mr Khan had raised unjust objections to other benches as well. This time again he requested his cases be fixed before one of the two honourable judges who had been recently elevated, the chief justice observed.

However, he said, “Neither a petitioner nor an enrolled advocate has the privilege nor can claim a right to ask for fixation of his cases before a bench of his choice. Such forum shopping, without a valid reason or justification, is not in consonance with the principles of administration of justice.”

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The petitioner had challenged the appointment of the judge, who had retired from the apex court in August 2019, as head of the Broadsheet commission by the federal government in exercise of powers conferred under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 2017. In his petition, he argued that Justice Saeed had served in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) as deputy prosecutor general and he might be privy to the agreement signed between NAB and Broadsheet, therefore, he could not be appointed as the head of the inquiry commission.

Under the rules, a retired judge could be appointed in any office for profit at least two years after his retirement, the petitioner argued, adding that Justice Saeed had retired in August 2019 and the two-year mandatory gap would not be over before August 2021. The petitioner urged the court that his recent appointment as commission head be set aside as there is a conflict of interest.

Justice Saeed was appointed as the commission head on January 21 to probe the NAB-Broadsheet issue two days after the federal cabinet had decided to form a new inquiry committee on the recommendation of an inter-ministerial committee that had earlier been constituted by Prime Minister Imran Khan to look into the Broadsheet saga.

After the petitioner raised objection to the bench and demanded that the matter be fixed before one of the two judges, Justice Minallah observed that the petitioner appeared in uniform of the noble legal profession and, therefore, he was also bound to observe the professional code of conduct. The court noted that Rule 166 of Pakistan Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Rules, 1973 declared it as “the duty of advocates to appear in court when a matter is called and if it is so possible to make satisfactory alternative arrangements”.

However, the IHC order said, the “petitioner refused to argue his case and allowing forum shopping without a valid justification would amount to abuse of the process of the court.” The order further stated that the jurisdiction of the court vested under Article 199 of the Constitution was discretionary.

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“The conduct of the petitioner is not reasonable nor can he be extended the privilege to insist upon fixation of his case before particular benches, without a just and valid reason.”

With this observation, the court dismissed the petition filed against the appointment of the former SC justice.

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