Legal Fraternity Urges Judges To Declare Assets Following Qazi Faez Isa's Example

Legal Fraternity Urges Judges To Declare Assets Following Qazi Faez Isa's Example
LAHORE: The legal fraternity has lauded Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s act of voluntary disclosure of his assets, income and liabilities, and has also demanded that other judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC) follow his footsteps, especially the judges who are currently facing references in Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) of misconduct and corruption.

‘Assets of judges, immediate family members should be made public’

Speaking to The Friday Times (TFT), Barrister Taimur Malik says, “Superior Court judges are the highest paid public office holders in Pakistan, and therefore there is and should be every expectation that the details of their, and those of immediate family members, assets and privileges should be made public, whether voluntarily or through statutory requirement.”

Agreeing with him, senior lawyer and country’s leading tax consultant Dr. Ikramul Haq says that the act of voluntary declaration of income, assets and liabilities by Mr. Justice Qazi Faez Isa is laudable and hoped to be followed by all honorable judges of the entire judiciary, especially the higher courts.

‘In line with Article 19A of the constitution’

“It conforms to the true spirit of Article 19A of the 1973 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” Dr. Haq notes while adding that it is an unalienable fundamental right of every citizen of Pakistan to know about the incomes, assets and liabilities of those who judge others in the vital matter of accountability.

Starting point of across the board accountability

For Dr. Haq, the disclosure of perks and benefits is also vital vis-à-vis evaluation of the entire system of dispensation of justice.

He believes the starting point of across the board accountability in Pakistan should be making public declaration of assets and liabilities by the judges and high-ranking civil-military officials—those of politicians are published every year in the official gazette.

Examples from India

We can learn a lot from India in this regard. The leading tax consultant recalls that the issue of asset disclosure of judges in India came in the limelight when a Right to Information Application was filed by Subhash Agarwal with the Supreme Court, seeking to know if judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court were complying with the 1997 Code of Conduct, in the wake of debate in Parliament and public campaigns in India.

Justice Mansoor Ali Shah - first LHC judge who declared his assets

Dr. Haq recalled that a number of High Court judges made their assets public, but in Pakistan only Mr. Justice Mansoor Ali Shah did so when he was Chief Justice of Lahore High Court and now Justice Qazi Faez Isa has done the same in his capacity as the senior most judge in the country after the Chief Justice of Pakistan. In doing so, Justice Isa has distanced himself from the Chief Justice of India's stand that asset disclosure would lead to the widespread harassment of judges at the hands of disgruntled litigants.

Qaez Faez Isa - only judge who declared assets on WAF’s application under Right to Information Act 2017

The constitutional expert further apprises that eminent former judges and leading jurists in India joined civil society in openly and publicly demanding public declaration of assets by judges. In Pakistan there is no such move, except in 2020, members of Women’s Action Forum (WAF) sought under the Right of Information Act, 2017, information regarding assets, salaries and perks of the honorable judges of Supreme Court and High Courts, as well as of military leadership.

“However, none responded, except Justice Qazi Faez Isa, who provided the details,” he concludes.

Judges should declare assets like parliamentarians

Agreeing with Dr. Haq, acclaimed constitutional expert and former law minister Dr. Zafarullah Khan says that all members of the superior judiciary ought to declare all the information about their assets and assets of their close family members, as members of parliament are required to.

Agreeing with them, Barrister Haris Azmat also believes that all public office holders should release their wealth statements. This creates transparency and enhances public confidence in the judiciary.

Constitutional expert Bilal Hassan Minto says, “Every judge, every civil servant, everyone...everyone who is paid from public funds must declare their assets. Judges should go first.”

Judges of lower courts are bound to declare assets - why not judges of superior courts?

Advocate High Court Mian Dawood, who has filed an application against Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi in Supreme Judicial Council tells TFT that the judges of the district judiciary including civil judges, senior civil judges, additional sessions judges and session judges, are bound by law to declare their own asset details and their family members’ assets every year before their respective High Courts throughout Pakistan. If this is the rule for lower court judges, then why can’t the judges of the superior judiciary declare their assets annually?

Judges who are facing references for misconduct and corruption should declare assets immediately

Dawood maintained that it has been a long standing demand that the judges of High Courts and Supreme Court should declare their personal assets from the time they become part of judiciary, and also declare assets when they were practicing as lawyers. “The judges who are facing references for misconduct and corruption should also immediately declare assets as it would clear the air,” he demands.

Dawood maintains that we request CJP Justice Bandial to fix a date for the hearing of a reference against Honorable Justice Naqvi in the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) and he shouldn’t be made part of any bench, or hear any case during the time of reference against him as this would strengthen the people’s confidence in country’s judicial system and the rule of law.

Justice Qazi Faez Isa assets can be found on Supreme Court website.

The writer is a senior correspondent at The Friday Times with a focus on politics, economy and militancy. He also hosts the Hassan Naqvi Show on Naya Daur.