ISLAMABAD: A judicial controversy in the making?

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Govt considering reappointment of sacked judges

By Rauf Klasra

The PPP government is seriously contemplating the reappointment of judges who were sent home after July 31 verdict of the Supreme Court. The action is fraught with the danger of siring a fresh controversy which may put the government on the wrong side of the apex judiciary.

Talking to The News, Farrukh Shah, spokesman for Governor Salman Taseer, confirmed that a reference had been sent to the Law Ministry seeking legal advice on whether the judges sent home in the wake of July 31st judgement could be considered for reappointment. He refused to make any further comments.

According to inside sources, the latest surprise move came as a consequence of legal deliberations in the governor’s secretariat wherein it transpired that the Supreme Court, in its July 31st verdict, had not clearly barred the concerned constitutional and legal authorities from recommending the names of such judges again for the same slot to fill the 33 vacant vacancies and their consequent appointments by President Asif Ali Zardari.

According to one source, Governor Taseer was of the view that these judges who were appointed by President Asif Ali Zardari by using his authority as the president, could still be reconsidered for their appointments at the same places from where they were asked to go home. The sources close to the Governor said that we all needed to understand that these judges did not take oath during the military regime of Musharraf or during the emergency period, so they could not be termed “PCO” judges. The sources believed that these judges were appointed by a competent and legally empowered (president of Pakistan) under the law so they could not be termed PCO judges.

Now in the light of these new understanding developing in the legal and constitutional circles of the government, Governor Salman Taseer had sought the legal opinion from Law Ministry by asking “whether the judges who have been ceased to be the judges of the High Court in pursuance of the judgment of the SC of July 31 in the Sindh High Court Bar Association case, can again be considered afresh for appointments as judges of the high court”.

CM Sharif had already constituted a committed headed by a close confidante, Khwaja Harris who was also the Sharif’s legal counsel while they were abroad and later also appointed as advocate general Punjab, to prepare a comprehensive reference which reportedly would form the basis of advice to be tendered by the chief minister to the Governor for the confirmation of the judges of LHC. In a clear attempt to get a say in the appointment of judges, Shahbaz Sharif has even argued that, besides relevant rules, he was empowered to give suggestions for the LHC judges also on the grounds of his provincial government picking the financial tab for judges salaries, perks and privileges.

Meanwhile, according to available copy of Governor Punjab reference to Law Ministry apart from other legal and constitutional issues being hotly debated between the offices of chief minister and governor, the federal government had also been asked to clarify whether Governor Punjab was in a position to recommend the reappointment of the judges of the Lahore High Court, who were actually asked to go home in the light of SC verdict on the grounds that all those judges, who had administered oath after the imposition of emergency on November 3, 2007 did not have any legal status to work as judges in the higher courts. According to sources, law ministry wizards in Islamabad have been pondering over this issue for the past one week.

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