LAHORE - The Lahore High Court last week announced two verdicts which have direct impact on the public at large: one about the self-executing powers of food safety officers to seal/punish any food outlet if found guilty of selling/manufacturing unhygienic food and the second about headcount of disabled persons in the ongoing census in the country.

In the first decision, the LHC ruled that there would be no violation of Article 10-A of the constitution which guarantees fair trial if food safety officers seal/punish any food outlet which is found guilty of selling, manufacturing unhygienic food without serving it any prior notice.

Justice Ayesha A Malik of the LHC announced the verdict on a petition moved by a Chinese restaurant in Gulberg. The verdict says that a food security officer (FSO) can hold inspection of restaurants at any time deemed necessary, especially because they are checking cleanliness standards, food safety and hygiene matters.  It rules that “It becomes necessary to protect the public from potential harm by sealing a food operator for providing harmful, impure or unhygienic food,”. However, the court observed that food safety officers should not publish posts or pictures of food operators on social media during their inspection.  However, the decision says that PFA may develop a monthly reporting process in order to inform the public about its actions against the food operators and consequences of such actions.

In the second decision, the LHC ordered the federal government and Pakistan Bureau of Statistics to amend forms being used in population census to do headcount of disabled persons in the country. Bureau’s Joint Commissioner Akbar Ali Dogar insisted that the census form had no enough space for additional column to do a headcount of disabled persons. He also presented copies of the forms being used in the census.

Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah lamented that even many unnecessary queries had been mentioned in the forms, however, the government ignored disabled persons, an essential part of the country’s population. The chief justice questioned as to how the government could devise any policy regarding disabled persons without knowing their population. He noted that the government was also supposed to hold headcount of disabled persons as required by a UN convention ratified by Pakistan in 2011. “Ignoring disabled persons in the census process is beyond any logic,” he added.

The chief justice further observed that depriving the persons with disabilities from being counted in the national census would offend their welfare and future prospects as the state had no credible information regarding their population.  The CJ also observed that information regarding disability could be easily included in Column No 3 pertaining to “sex” by assigning codes like disabled male with 4, female with 5 and transgender with 6. The bureau of statistics was also directed to ensure that next population census included a special column relating to persons with disabilities along with their categories.

In a separate petition about Pakistanis imprisoned in foreign jails, the court gave a direction to the federal government to come up with a uniform consular protection policy for them. The LHC expressed displeasure at the government for not devising a consular protection policy for Pakistani prisoners abroad. Families of citizens imprisoned in Saudi Arabia had filed the petitions. The court questioned a federal law officer as to how long foreign affairs ministry would sit silent on the issue.  The law officer said the ministry could issue guidelines for Pakistanis living in Arab countries and ensure them consular access. At this, the court observed “it appears that the government has adopted a policy of “no policy” on overseas Pakistanis in Arab counties especially.” The court remarked “government should at least take a position on the matter of protecting Pakistani prisoners abroad,”.  Earlier, amicus curiae (friend of court) Advocate Sameer Khosa stated before the court that Pakistan had many steps at its disposal to protect its citizens from the violation of their rights including diplomatic reprisals, recalling ambassadors, providing funding in addition to consular access. He pointed out that the government had successfully intervened in cases of media persons Zaid Hamid and Moeed Pirzada.

In addition to it, the LHC declared appointment of Fatima Sheikh as director general of Child Protection and Welfare Bureau illegal and directed the Punjab government to fill the posts within 15 days.

Sheraz Zaka, a lawyer, had filed the petition challenging appointment of CPWB DG.  The CJ showed displeasure over the illegal appointment made four years ago and said as there is no concept of ad-hoc or acting charge appointment in the law. The CJ further observed that rule of law shall prevail and nepotism will not be tolerated. The petitioner argued that Ms Fatima Sheikh could not have been appointed as the Director General as she belonged to the Information Group whereas the requisite qualification is that a person must belong to District Management Group.

The court previously had given option to the administration of the CPWB to fix irregularities on their own otherwise the court would announce its decision.

The LHC, however, dismissed petitions challenging eligibility of PML-N leader Khwaja Ahmad Hassaan to contest local government election and his subsequent unopposed victory as chairman from union council 107 of Lahore.

Justice Atir Mahmood announced the verdict, which he had reserved on Feb 8 after hearing arguments from the parties. Zubair Niazi of PTI and others had challenged the eligibility of Mr Hassaan. The government’s counsel had argued that the offices held by Mr Hasaan were honorary in nature and did not fall in the definition of service of Pakistan.

Moreover, the LHC directed the Punjab inspector general of police to hear point of view of PPP leader Shaukat Mahmood Basra and decide in accordance with law his application seeking state protection/security citing serious threats to his life.

During the week, the ATC granted pre-arrest bail to PML-N MNA Sohail Shaukat Butt in murder case of PPP leader Babar Sohail Butt. The MNA appeared before the court along with his counsel and pleaded that there was a possibility that the police would arrest him. The counsel argued that the petitioner had no role in the murder of the PPP leader but the complainant party dragged him in the case owing to political rivalry. He stated that the petitioner was ready join police investigation to prove his innocence.  The court granted the bail to the MNA until March 24 with direction to him to deposit surety bond of Rs100,000. Babar Butt was gunned down at his residence in Manawan area on March 12.

In another case, the ATC allowed Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) to have 30-day physical custody of four alleged facilitators of Charing Cross Mall Road suicide attack. The CTD personnel produced the suspects before the court under strict security arrangements. The investigating officer sought physical remand of the suspects for further interrogation. He said the suspects were arrested on the information of prime suspect Anwaarul Haq, who was already on remand. The suspects include Irfan Khan, Attaur Rehman, Abdullah and Imran Shah.