Is everyone equal before law?

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Zaheer Ahmad

Last month a ten member bench of the Supreme Court quashed the much talked about reference filled against Justice Qazi Faez Issa.

Not only that, the bench also refused to consider the report by Federal Board of Revenue on the orders of the Supreme Court. This case is significant in a number of ways.

Some people are celebrating the outcome of the case as a victory of Qazi Faez Issa as they believed that the reference against him came out of the PTI government’s alleged bias against the respected judge.

Others view the judgment in this case is a clear example set by the judges fraternity that judges are beyond accountability and they can’t be questioned as to incompatibility between their income and resources.

This later implications is itself questionable as judges who apply the law must also apply the same standards of law to themselves and their spouses. It would not be out of place to quote former premier Nawaz Sharif’s case here.

In fact, there is a striking similarity between Nawaz Sharif and Qazi Faez Issa’s case with regard to the facts. However, curiously enough the outcome of both the cases is utterly different.

In the former case, a premier is sentenced to ten years in jail and is judged as unfit to hold any government office in future while in the latter case the very initiation of a case against a judge on the basis of non declaration of the property belonging to his wife is considered out of bounds for any court of law.

Making a case for the immunity of any person from law in a polity which takes inspiration from the Islamic system of law in which neither a ruler nor a judge is considered immune to accountability ( regardless of his position) would amount to the mockery of our legal system as a whole.

Hence, it can be safely argued that everyone should ideally be subjected the same standards of law, Here, a distinction with regard to the personhood would cause a grievous hurt to our system of law which is supposed to see everyone ( be a he a premier or a sitting judge) in the same light.

In this backdrop a few questions that have been asked by those who keep an eye on the politico-legal developments in the Pakistan beg answers.

Raising those questions of legal connotations would put the concerns of experts on law into perspective.

First, a news has been making rounds on social and electronic media that two of the honourable judges of supreme court had reportedly requested the Chief Justice in writing that they be made part of the larger bench being formed to hear the review petitions of Qazi Faez Isa and his wife Serena Isa.

As the decision in Qazi Faez Isa case was announced in favour of the judge and his spouse with a majority of six to four, the inclusion of two judges who as per reports wanted to be part of the case is of significant importance.

And people who are asking the court to make the name of those judges public are within their rights.

So, will the right to information act be applied in this case to let public know the facts of the case?

Second, the ten-member bench also included judges who passed minority judgment in the initial decision as Justice Amin-u-Din replaced Justice Faisal Arab.

So, on can rightfully ask whether inclusion of a judge who has already made his opinion in the case public is in accordance with the principles of law and fair play? Third, as the honourable judges barred the Supreme Judicial Council to review the report submitted by the Federal Board of Revenue one can justifiably ask to at least make the findings of the report public.

After all, what did that report contain of which justice Isa and his wife were afraid of? Why so many people in media and bar associations joined hands to stop the review of this FBR report even by the court itself? Apparently the FBR report of more than hundred pages submitted to the Supreme Court explains that properties were purchased at the cost of Rs. 105 million while Ms. Sarena Isa’s total income ever declared in all her tax records only made a total of Rs. 9 million.

Though Sarena Isa did claim that she also has an agricultural income which is neither a part of her declared income nor has she ever filed its taxt returns.

Fourth, FBR report shows that Justice Isa and his wife did maintain a MCB Forex Account in Karachi but it was never declared in their tax returns till 2018.

Some funds were transferred from this Forex Account, but these were for the purpose of education and living expenses and not for purchase of property.

So, one may again rightfully ask how and where the funds (Rs. 105 million) originated that were used by her solicitors in London to purchase property? It is pertinent to say that she was repeatedly asked the same question but she never answered to the satisfaction of court and those who kept a close eye on the case.

Fifth, Justice Isa and his spouse reportedly never disclosed their three London properties in their tax returns till Jan 2020.

Furthermore, FBR report mentions that while Justice Isa and his wife initially claimed that properties were purchased by their children who were then independent and adults but later Ms. Sarena Isa changed her stance and claimed that she alone was responsible for the purchase of properties.

In both cases Ms. Sarena Isa would have done well if she had given the money trail of the funds that she provided her solicitors in London to purchase the properties in question.

Given the facts of the case and the questions that still remain unanswered one may safely take a view that this case could have been better handled.

History would perhaps not look kindly to the fact that a sitting premier was disqualified and sentenced to jail term of ten years for not being able to provide the money trail of the properties owned in London by his children while the very initiation of a reference against a justice and his wife was deemed unjustified in a case a with similar facts to the former.

Regardless of the legal nuances of both the cases, a common Pakistani citizen expects only one thing from our judicial system i.e , law must treat everyone equally regardless of his / her position.

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