ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court of Pakistan, on Thursday, warned the federal government that it would have to face the consequences if it failed to rebut the contention of malice in filing Presidential Reference against Justice Qazi Faez Isa.

A 10-member larger bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial conducted hearing of identical petitions challenging presidential reference against Justice Qazi Faez for allegedly not disclosing his foreign properties in his wealth statement.

During the hearing, Justice Maqbool Baqir said to the federation’s counsel that he should bear in mind the consequences, in case the government was unable to prove its case against Justice Isa.

Barrister Farogh Naseem representing the federation and Chairman Assets Recovery Unit (ARU) said that there was a system according to which the government prepared the groundwork and sent the matter to the minister, who forwarded it to the Prime Minister for his consent and then it was granted approval by the federal cabinet. He said that it was not necessary that the President might apply his independent opinion on legal issues. The President by profession  was a dentist and the Prime Minister was a politician and former cricketer therefore they had to rely on the advice of the government officials on the legal issues, he added.

The former law minister cited an Indian judgment to substantiate his argument about the working of the government. However, the bench expressing dissatisfaction over it said that it was not relevant with the case in question.

Justice Maqbool Baqir said that under Article 209 of Constitution, the President had been assigned a specific role that he had to form an opinion on the information placed before him for sending the reference to Supreme Judicial Council (SJC). He was required to comply a legal obligation under the Article 209, the Justice added.

Justice Mansoor said that the President had to play the role of an arbiter, when he received a complaint against any judge from the government, therefore he had to form an independent opinion. After examining the material, he can ask the government if the information provided was not enough. Justice Bandial said that Article 209 was not merely there to remove judges of superior courts, but it also intended to protect the independence of judiciary.

Justice Baqir said that Section 116 of Income Tax Ordinance, 2001, required an assessee to furnish complete information about his assets and wealth and if he failed to do so then on the notice he had to reply to the FBR.

Justice Muneeb Akhtar asked from the counsel that the counsel had said that under Rules of Business the Secretary prepared the groundwork and then relevant minister forwarded the summary to the Prime Minister, who had to form an opinion. He said that the President could form or take opinion in law, but what about the pinion, which is wrong in law. Justice Mansoor asked whether the President could pre-empt something which the authorities under law had to decide.

Explaining the genesis of Assets Recovery Unit (ARU), Farogh Naseem informed that the ARU came into existence in view of the apex court suo moto that it was the fundamental right of the people of Pakistan to bring back stolen money stashed abroad. He said that the ARU was established under Rules of Business on August 20, 2018 after the approval of the cabinet. He added that the unit had its office in the Cabinet Division.

Justice Umar Ata Bandial said that the Supreme Court did not give any direction for setting up of ARU. He added that task force constituted by the Court comprised state functionaries but the committee formed by the government included private persons.

Justice Sajjad Ali Shah stated that the mandate of ARU was to deliberate legislative and executive measures for tracing and repatriating Pakistanis assets lying abroad.

The bench also raised serious questions over working of Assets Recovery Units (ARU) and the federal government has yet to satisfy the court on the matter.

Justice Mansoor asked Farogh Naseem that he had not told that how complaints were registered with the ARU. The judge told him to provide the list of complaints registered and action taken on them.

Later, the bench deferred hearing till June 8 for further proceedings in this matter.