Supreme Court Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s presidential-reference nightmare comes to a close
On April 26, 2021, the Supreme Court of Pakistan finally put an end to the proceedings launched by President Arif Alvi against its judge, Justice Qazi Faez Isa—qazi in Urdu translates to judge in English. A 10-member larger bench headed by Justice Umer Ata Bandial allowed review petitions filed by Justice Isa and various bar associations against its earlier order of June 19, 2020, which had allowed inquiry into the assets of Justice Isa’s wife, Sarina Isa.
The president of Pakistan had filed a reference in May 2019 against Justice Isa, asking the Supreme Judicial Council to probe him for “concealing his properties in the United Kingdom allegedly held in the name of his wife and children.” The implication was that the judge had taken bribes and then money-laundered the sums with which his family had bought the properties in the U.K.
Justice Isa has been a member of the Supreme Court of Pakistan since Sept. 5, 2014, after serving as Chief Justice of the Balochistan High Court for five years. He is the son of Qazi Muhammad Isa, a close associate of founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. After completing his schooling in Karachi, Isa did his B.A. (Honors) in Law from London, passing his Bar from the Inns of Court School of Law, London, and was called to the Bar of England and Wales in 1982.
As the full bench of the Supreme Court sat to decide whether the case should go to the Supreme Judicial Council, Justice Isa complained about the propriety of the reference filed by President Alvi. Did he even study what he had been asked by Prime Minister Imran Khan to do? Anticipating his ouster from the Supreme Court, lawyers across Pakistan protested, charging that Justice Isa’s judgment pertaining to the sit-in of the fanatically religious party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) had unleashed the fury of “the powers-that-be” against him.
Salahuddin Ahmed, a former president of the Karachi Bar Association, wrote: “Many consider Justice Isa’s real sin to be of a nature similar to a judge of the Islamabad High Court who had made public ‘interference’ from the powers-that-be in the working of the judiciary.” In his Faizabad dharna judgment, Justice Isa had directed the armed forces and intelligence agencies to investigate whether their officers had violated their oath by meddling in politics, inter alia, by doling out cash to protesters.
The sit-in referenced was among the craziest that a benighted religious state can deal with. Crying blasphemy, the since-deceased wheelchair-riding, foul-mouthed leader of TLP, Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi, had managed to get rid of a law minister of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) government over allegations of insulting Islam’s Prophet through changes to the Election Bill, 2017. The Army intervened after Rizvi’s followers attacked police, blocked roads and torched vehicles, plying them with cash handouts before allowing them go home with a sense of empowerment not available to any other political group.
What had Justice Isa done to deserve the presidential reference asking the Supreme Judicial Council to see if he could be taken off his job for not giving account of his possibly ill-acquired “wealth” in the U.K.? Everyone thinks it was a result of the verdict he delivered on the Faizabad sit-in and the peculiar way the Army had behaved. An excerpt from Justice Isa’s judgment:
“Politicking, manipulation of media undermines integrity of armed forces. Pursuant to the judgment in Air Marshal Asghar Khan’s case, the involvement of ISI and of the members of the armed forces in politics, media and other ‘unlawful activities’ should have stopped. Instead when TLP’s dharna participants received cash handouts from men in uniform, the perception of their involvement gained traction. The Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) has also taken to commenting on political matters.”
To say the least, this frank expression of objection to how democracy is interfered with in Pakistan could well have proven the last straw to materialize the presidential order against the judge. It is regrettable that the president did not carefully peruse the charge leveled against the “recalcitrant” judge.
About the property of Justice Isa’s settled-in-U.K. family, one knew little. His lawyer revealed in court that Sarina Montessarat Khoso Carrera, wife of Justice Isa, was a lady of independent means and, while in Pakistan, had paid Rs. 104,000 in tax in 2009; Rs. 143,055 in 2010; and Rs. 147,883 in 2011, whereas “Prime Minister Imran Khan paid Rs. 103,763 as tax in 2017.” What flummoxed the judges was President Alvi’s oversight in not reading the Income Tax Law that lays no responsibility on a taxpayer to reveal the wealth of his family members but holds that the Income Tax Department could demand details of it if it so chose.
Decisions taken in haste, at times at someone else’s behest, often come to grief. After the 2013 polls, which Imran Khan lost, he leveled the charge of “35 punctures” on the caretaker chief minister of Punjab, journalist Najam Sethi, accusing him of undermining the election by applying 35 different rigging devices against Khan’s party. Sethi went to court against him demanding “damages” in crores of rupees. It remains a pending case that the prime minister has carefully ignored. Will Justice Isa too demand some kind of reparation for the pain caused to him by the president?