LAHORE - The top Punjab court last week took up many cases, including a petition against ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, another challenging placement of fast bowler Muhammad Irfan’s name on the Exit Control List (ECL) and yet another against the tax amnesty scheme for traders.

The LHC also heard a habeas corpus petition seeking recovery of Majlis Wahdate Muslimeen (MWM) deputy secretary general Nasir Abbas from Punjab Police’s custody.

Ali Abbas had filed the petition, alleging that his brother Sherazi was abducted by police a few days ago in Wapda Town. He alleged that the police had kidnapped his brother at the behest of Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan and some others. He argued that his brother had filed a petition before the high court for disqualification of the law minister for uttering ‘derogatory’ remarks against a judge who conducted inquiry into the 2014 Model Town incident.

Abbas said that his brother was allegedly kidnapped in revenge for filing a case against the law minister. He prayed to the court to order the police to produce his detained brother before the court. Justice Sardar Ahmad Naeem directed the CCPO of Lahore to submit a report on the issue by Nov 6 (today). The LHC also decided a petition moved by the Faisalabad Development Authority, seeking directives for six police officers to vacate possession of its residences. Justice Ali Akbar Qureshi ordered the officers to vacate the houses of the authority within 15 days. The judge also directed the Punjab chief secretary to arrange alternate residences for the police officers.

The authority had contended that the police department had obtained the residences for its officers on rent. However, it said, the officers had not been paying the rent for several months and also not vacating the residences. It asked the court to order the police officers to leave the possession of the residences owned by the authority. The RPO of Faisalabad, who was present in the court, undertook that the houses of the FDA would be vacated soon. He said the authority never lodged any complaint with the police department and opted to file the petition before the court.

Besides, the Model Town inquiry report case was taken up by a full bench of the LHC headed by Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh. Advocate Khawaja Haris and Khurram Chughtai represented the government in appeal against the single bench of Justice Naqvi that had ordered publication of the Model Town inquiry report. During the proceedings, government’s lawyers said it was discretion of the Information Commission under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013 if it wants to publish or hold the Model Town inquiry report. They hinted that the report could be presented before the bench. The bench directed the government’s lawyers to conclude the arguments at the next date of hearing, which is today. Moreover, the LHC sought replies from Punjab communication & works department and inspector general of police about construction of CIA Investigation Complex in residential locality of Old Anarkali.

Residents of the area filed a writ petition challenging the construction of the investigation complex, which they said was a sensitive installation and amounted to putting lives of the locals in danger. Representing the petitioners, Advocate Taffazul Haider Rizvi stated that in the past terrorist attacks had taken place on buildings of law enforcement agencies, resulting in loss of lives and properties. He said that life of residents of this area was already miserable due to extraordinary security measures taken for the nearby office of Inspector General of Police; therefore, construction of a multi-storey CIA complex on Rabbani Road (Old Anarkali) would obviously entail similar security arrangements and life of the residents will become a living hell.

The counsel pointed out that the land in question had been previously used for single-storey residences of police officers. He asked the court to stop the authorities from raising construction of the investigation complex keeping in view the area was purely residential. It has residences and schools and the police complex will put lives of residents at peril and jeopardise the safety and security of the area.

A government law officer argued that the petitioners could file a departmental representation before the authority concerned. However, Justice Sajid Mahmood Sethi directed him to file a reply on behalf of the respondents by Nov 1.

However, the most prominent case of the week was the case of Punjab Saaf Pani Company that was transferred to Justice Shahid Karim from Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, who was already hearing it. As Justice Naqvi resumed hearing of Hafiz Saeed’s detention case, he asked Attorney General of Pakistan Ashtar Ausaf Ali and Saeed’s counsel AK Dogar if a pending case can be transferred to another court.

“I’m not going to hear this case,” he said, and recused himself from hearing the detention case of Jamaatud Dawa chief. Justice Naqvi remarked: “How the judiciary could work independently in such circumstances. Interference in judicial work is very awful.” Justice Naqvi was hearing the Punjab Saaf Pani Company case since it was taken up with the Lahore High Court by a local lawyer Sania Kanwal. The lawyer had moved the petition, alleging corruption in the company. The judge, on the petition, had directed the Punjab government to submit details of all public sector companies functioning in Punjab and salaries/perks being enjoyed by their chief executive officers.

The government, however, failed to submit the required details. The law officers also questioned powers of the court to take suo motu in the case, saying that the petitioner never sought such details in her petition.

However, the chief justice in another petition challenging alleged corruption in 56 companies passed a judicial order and directed the registrar’s office to consolidate all petitions against public sector companies and fix these before Justice Shahid Karim for Nov 6. The CJ passed the order when a law officer pointed out that identical petitions were already pending in the court.

Senior lawyers are divided on transfer of Punjab Saaf Pani Company case to Justice Karim from the court of Justice Naqvi. AK Dogar says, “When a case is allocated to a judge it cannot be transferred from that court to any other court until and unless the relevant judge himself refers it to any other court or he himself does not want to hear it or has not held part hearing of the case.” However, Dogar did not cite any relevant law or administrative rule on it. Khurram Chughtai, the lawyer who has been representing companies in the case, says it is discretion of the chief justice if he orders to consolidate all the cases on administrative side. He argues that under Rule 4-A (II) Chapter 3 Part-B of Rules and Orders of the Lahore High Court the chief justice can transfer a case to another judge and also can consolidate all identical matters before a judge. He also says that under Civil Procedure Code, 1908, the matter can be consolidated.

Another lawyer, Munsur Awan says, “There are a number of reasons that a judge can refer a case if he himself recuses or either of the parties loses confidence in the court and requests for transfer or any other plausible reason that requires the case to be heard by another judge.” “In the case of lower courts, it’s the district judge and in the case of High Court, it’s the chief justice who has the administrative powers to transfer pending case,” he adds. Advocate Azhar Siddique says that a case can be transferred on administrative side and not through any judicial order. However, he says “a part heard case cannot be transferred from a judge to another judge until and unless he himself recuses himself from that case or himself refers the case to another judge.” “There will be a problem in dispensation of justice if judges start transferring cases from a bench to another bench,” Azhar apprehends.