LAHORE - The PML-N heavy mandated federal government is working to ‘increase the powers’ of the Parliamentary Committee for Appointment of Judges in the high courts and the Supreme Court, automatically lessening the powers of the Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP) after amending Article 175-A of the Constitution of Pakistan.

In this regard, a special committee of the Senate on Friday held its meeting with PPP’s senator and ex-law minister Farooq H Naek in the chair, and sought recommendations from Supreme Court Bar Association President Kamran Murtaza and Pakistan Bar Council Vice Chairman Syed Qalb-e-Hassan.

The special committee consists of Rafique Rajwana, Farooq H Naik and MNA Muhammad Bashir Virk.

The special committee was tasked on January 4 to obtain recommendations from lawyers’ bodies, senior advocates and parliamentarians over the dispute of powers among the parliamentary committee and the Judicial Commission.

A participant of the meeting, requesting anonymity, told The Nation that the proposed amendment in the article would strengthen the viewpoint of the members of the parliamentary committee in the appointment of judges. He further disclosed that a proposal was being considered to give more powers to the head of the parliamentary committee as compared to the head of JCP after amending the Constitution. He added that after an amendment in Article 175-A, the committee would have powers to reject or uphold recommendations by the Judicial Commission if it thinks a nominated lawyer is not suitable for appointment as a judge.

Talking to The Nation, SCBA President Kamran Murtaza who attended the meeting on Friday said the bar had already reservations over the appointment of judges in the high courts and the apex court by former CJP Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary. He said the SCBA had submitted a draft to ex-CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry for amendment in the Judicial Commission rules. However, the bar recommendations for amending the rules had not been taken up so far, he added. “We have again submitted these recommendations to the special committee meeting,” he said.

Discussing the proposals for amendment in the commission rules, Kamran Murtaza said there should be equal rights for all commission members for nomination of lawyers as judges of the higher and superior judiciary.

“Currently, the chief justices of high courts and the apex court have the right to initiate the name of a lawyer for his appointment as a judge, which blocks the rights of other commission members,” Kamran pointed out.

He said a retired judge of the apex court should not sit at the judicial commission meetings as a member because he will favour the nomination of the chief justice, being under his obligation.

Kamran said he had also proposed representation of the provinces in the Judicial Commission whenever the appointment of judges in the high courts of the respective provinces is considered.

He said appointment of judges through a fair and transparent procedure was the test of CJP Tassaduq Hussain Jillani.

Talking to The Nation, Senator Rafique Rajwana said the special committee just wanted to make the role of the parliamentary body more effective.

When asked about the need of forming such a body, Rafique replied that the parliamentary committee was formed under the Constitution and there should be some practical role of it.

“The parliamentarians just want equality in the powers of the PC and JC,” he said, adding they also felt that some power and practical role should be given to the parliament in judges’ appointments.

“At this stage, we are just collecting feedback from all the stakeholders concerned,” he said. “Only suitable and practical recommendations will be considered after the amendment in Article 175-A,” the senator said. He said nothing was under consideration to curtail the powers of the JC.

He said they wanted to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and role of the parliamentary committee. “The parliamentarians want that the scrutiny process at the time of judges’ appointment should be meaningful,” he said.

A senior advocate of the Supreme Court, Muhammad Siddique Azhar, said there was no need of the amendment in Article 175-A. He said the said article was clear in appointments of judges. He questioned why the parliamentarians were demanding their role in the appointments of judges. He remarked some elements were afraid of the independence of the judiciary.

The Judicial Commission and the parliamentary committee were formed by amending Article 175-A through 18th and 19th amendments for the appointments of superior court judges.

The procedure of judges’ appointment had become disputed when former CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry was the head of JCP and only the chief justices enjoyed full powers to initiate the names of judges for elevation.

The parliamentarians feel the apex court judgment in the Munir Hussain Bhatti case in May 2011 had finished the role of the Parliamentary Committee in judges’ appointments. In this judgment, the superior judiciary had ruled that the Parliamentary Committee should give reasons for not accepting the recommendation of the JC about the elevation of a judge otherwise it would be termed arbitrary.

The dispute over the powers of the Parliamentary Committee and the Judicial Commission arose in 2011 when former head of the PC, Nayyar Hussain Bokhari, rejected JC’s recommendations to give one-year extension to the service tenures of four additional judges of the Lahore High Court and nominations of two judges of the Sindh High Court.