LAHORE - Although the Panama papers case lies with the Supreme Court and will be heard afresh by a new bench to be constituted by the incoming chief justice – Mian Saqib Nisar – next month the Qatari prince’s famous letter that helps the prime minister’s family defend their ownership of the London flats was referred to in a light vein by a judge of the Lahore High Court last week.

Justice Syed Mazaher Ali Akbar Naqvi talked of this letter while hearing a petition against MQM chief Altaf Hussain that seeks registration of a case against the London-based leader who frequently speaks against Pakistan, the country he left back in 1992 because of a number of criminal cases pending against him.

The interior secretary appeared before the court and said a case would be registered only when the interior minister gave a green signal. And since the minister was not feeling well, instructions could not be sought, the secretary said.

The judge said all ‘black sheep’ speaking against Pakistan must be taken to task. He also directed the government to submit a clear reply on the petition.

“If the reply is not possible, submit a letter from some prince, the judge said, clearly referring to the Qatari prince’s letter produced by the prime minister’s lawyers in the Panama papers case. Those present in the courtroom burst into laughter on the suggestion.

The suggestion not only reflected the judge’s deep sense of humour but also the ‘importance’ people give to this unexpected communication. Interestingly, the author of the letter, the former Qatari prime minister, is in Pakistan for houbara bustard hunting and on his arrival he met the prime minister at his Raiwind residence.

Apparently, after the apex court’s latest order, the case against the prime minister’s family will take long to decide.

The time could be cut short if the matter had been taken as part-heard. But the apex court bench clearly mentioned that after the retirement of Chief Justice Jamali the new CJP would set up a new bench which will hear the case from the very beginning.

The courts at all levels in Pakistan are independent, as Justice Jamali said in Lahore on Saturday, and they are quite competent to take any decision independently.

But there are also people who say that Chief Justice Jamali should not have headed the bench because he knew well that he would retire before the conclusion of the proceedings. Had he kept himself out, the bench could have continued proceedings uninterrupted even after Justice Jamali completes his term.

A  common man doesn’t understand the wisdom behind Justice Jamali’s decision first to head the bench and then order hearing the case anew.

Perhaps this was the most important case of his judicial career. And had he decided it one way or the other, he would have been remembered by posterity. But again it is for the independent judiciary to take decisions they like.

What the bench did in this case is probably also responsible for the growing number of pending cases in courts. The writer doesn’t have the latest figures of the pending cases but a report carried by this newspaper in January last year says the Supreme Court and subordinate courts have about 1.7 million cases awaiting adjudication.

The situation demands that the courts should work in three shifts to clear the backlog. At times the establishment of evening courts was also considered in Punjab. But for unknown reasons there has been no progress on this front. Litigants have to wait for generations to get cases decided.  The unlucky ones even die while their cases are still pending.

In such a situation the judiciary should consider for a moment what the situation will be if all pending cases are heard afresh – right from the beginning – following the golden example set by the apex court? 

Another important case taken up by the Lahore High Court last week was about the petitions against the arbitrary raise in the legislators’ salaries.

Like judiciary, the legislature is also independent and can take any decision (that benefits the lawmakers). Nobody can question their decisions and nobody can ask them why they don’t attend the sessions for which they get paid.

Justice Shams Mahmood Mirza while hearing arguments on the maintainability of a petition moved by Ghazi Ilmuddin Advocate said that all petitions on the subject should be clubbed.

The raise in legislators’ salaries justifies calls for an equal increase in the salaries of other government employees- and even those working in the private sector.

If inflation affects the parliamentarians, other people are no exception. 

Last week, the Supreme Court directed the Punjab Food Authority (PFA) to submit comprehensive reports about quality of packed/loose milk and drinking water available in the market.

A two-judge bench headed by Justice Mian Saqib Nisar passed the order while hearing a petition against sale of substandard milk and drinking water.

PFA Director General along with representatives of University of Agriculture Faisalabad, University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Lahore, and Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR) appeared before the court.

The PCSIR official submitted a sealed report about examination of samples taken from milk and water companies. He said samples of nine out of 11 packed milk companies had been found substandard. Samples of six bottled water companies had been declared substandard, he added.

Justice Nisar observed that the court would not allow anyone to play havoc with the lives of citizens.

The judge directed the PFA to submit reports on water and milk samples within a month. The bench would resume hearing on Dec 27.