ISLAMABAD  -   The Senate on Monday passed an opposition-sponsored resolution by majority vote demanding withdrawal of references filed against superior court judges amid rare protest launched by the treasury members opposing the move.

There was complete pandemonium in the house when it passed the resolution with the majority of vote in the opposition-dominated Upper House of the parliament.

In one of the unprecedented moments in the house, the opposition contrary to the house tradition did not even share the draft resolution with the treasury benches including Leader of the House Shibli Faraz. This aroused the treasury members to launch a rare protest in front of the chairman Senate’s main dais soon against the suspension of the house rules for consideration of the resolution.

For the first time in the nine months of incumbent government, the opposition showed its muscles in the house completely paralyzing the government in the single sitting session that was especially summoned before Eidul Fitr holidays to pass a government bill for extending number of judges in the Islamabad High Court (IHC). The opposition also rejected the bill with the majority of vote.

The resolution that was signed by all opposition parties and moved by Leader of the Opposition Raja Zafarul Haq says that the house expresses grave concern over the filing of references in the Supreme Judicial Council by President against judges of superior judiciary in “a secretive manner without even the knowledge of concerned judges.”

The resolution said that filing of references has evoked serious criticism, caused split in the bar and led to resignation of additional attorney general. “There is a lingering suspicion that the arbitrary and suspicious filing of references is linked with some recent verdicts of these judges,” the resolution said.

The resolution termed filing of references as a direct attack on the independence of judiciary aimed at stifling the voices of reason, truth and justice in the highest judiciary.

The house expressed its solidarity with the judges under siege, lawyers’ elected representatives and the bar councils and demanded withdrawal of the references, the resolution said.

Recently, the government has filed references against Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court and Justice K.K. Agha of the Sindh High Court allegedly over non-disclosure of their foreign assets in their wealth statements.

The resolution was interestingly different from the signed text share with the media. The text shared with the media reads “The Senate of Pakistan strongly condemns the references filed by the Government against the upright and independent judges of superior judiciary before the Supreme Judicial Council. “While supporting across-the-board accountability, the senate feels that these targeted references are malafide and politically motivated”, it added.

Before the opposition leader was about to move the resolution, the leader of house objected that contrary to the traditions of the house, he had not been taken into confidence on the draft resolution. “This house could not be run in this way,” he said registering his protest with Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani.

 

The house also rejected the Islamabad High Court (Amendment) Bill, 2019 with the majority vote of opposition despite the house committee headed by an opposition lawmaker had approved it. The bill already seeks to increase the number of judges of IHC from seven to 10.

Soon after the opposition opposed the bill, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Azam Khan Swati appealed to the opposition not to oppose it because it would lapse on June 4. He argued that the opposition lawmakers including former law minister Farooq H Naek who are members of house law committee had already endorsed the bill and there was no justification to oppose it at this stage.

PPP Senator Sherry Rehman objected over the bill and said that when there were already vacancies of judges in IHC, then why the government wanted to increase the number of judges. “There is lowest pendency of cases in IHC out of 1.8 million pending cases across country’s courts,” she said. She said that IHC was not formed only for Islamabad rather it represented federation. She argued that it did not become indispensable for the house to pass the bill if committee clears it.

Her party colleague Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar said that the government had yet to fill three vacancies in IHC. He said that bill should not be passed unless the government brings an amendment that the judges for IHC would be inducted from the local bar of Islamabad.

He said that Law Minister Farogh Naseem should have been present in the house to explain filing of reference against the superior courts judges. “At a time, when the government has attacked judiciary, how we can allow it to appoint its blue-eyed judges,” he stressed. “You (government) have attacked an honourable judge like Qazi Faiz Esa, we have no trust on you,” he said amid slogans of “shame shame” from opposition.

Leader of the House Shibli Faraz argued that even two lawmakers of same party — PPP — have opposing views on the induction of judges, one wants they should be inducted from entire country and the other wants only from Islamabad. He said that the government wanted to provide relief to masses by increasing the number of judges. Senator Khokhar’s speech gives the impression that opposition only wanted to save skin of its “corrupt” leadership and had nothing to do with the welfare of people. He requested the chair to put to bill for voting so that “opposition could be exposed before masses for talking against the public welfare.”  The position launched a protest soon after the passage of bill and the house also witnessed hue and cry from both sides for some time. PTI Senator Mohsin Aziz said that PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi should resign from chairmanship of law committee because the opposition has disrespected its committee. He requested the chair to give a ruling to disband house committees if the opposition did not want to give these due importance. PTI Senator Faisal Javed Khan accused PML-N for attacking judiciary in the past.