ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Wednesday observed that non-compliance of tax law was not a proper ground for filing of a reference against a judge under Article 209 of Constitution.

Justice Umar Ata Bandial, who is heading a 10-member larger bench, asked federation's counsel Farogh Naseem that it had been agreed that the judge had not declared foreign properties of his spouse and children in the tax/wealth returns.

He said non-compliance of tax law does not render a judge to be removed under Article 209.

The bench heard identical petitions challenging presidential reference against Justice Qazi Faez for allegedly not disclosing his foreign properties in his wealth statement.

Besides the apex court judge, the Pakistan Bar Council, the Supreme Court Bar Association, the bar councils and associations of Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan, and Abid Hassan Minto, and I A Rehman, have also challenged the presidential reference against Justice Qazi Faez Isa.

Justice Bandial said there was no allegation of corruption or dishonesty against Justice Qazi Faez Isa.

He said in 2009 the judge (Justice Qazi) when practicing as a lawyer had an annual income a Rs35 million, adding that he had enough money.

The non-declaration of assets of spouse in tax returns does not constitute any misconduct.

The constitution protects the judges from the attack of minor or trifle error.

He asked the federation's counsel to show to the court the law that says non-declaration of spouse's foreign properties constitutes misconduct?

Farogh Naseem, representing the federation and chairman Asset Recovery Unit (ARU) Shahzad Akbar, maintained in India proceedings were initiated against a judge when the properties of his family members were not declared.

Justice Bandial said, “don't cite Indian law".

APP adds: In response to the federal government's counsel, Dr Farogh Naseem's argument that Justice Isa had not provided the money trail for the properties of his family members, Justice Bandial observed that there was no allegation of corruption or money attained through illegal means against Justice Isa.

He said undeclared foreign property comes under the purview of the tax law, and asked Dr Naseem to explain the legal reasons on the basis of which Justice Isa was bound to disclose his family properties.

He asked whether the accused Supreme Court judge had carried out any misconduct.

He said the reference could not be filed on tax violation and the case came under the purview of Article 209 of the Constitution of Pakistan – which pertains to action against a judge when he has been guilty of misconduct.

Justice Bandial observed that Justice Isa had declared income enough to purchase these properties in 2008-2009.

On being questioned on proceedings under the tax law, the federal counsel maintained that officials of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) were too afraid to proceed against Justice Isa and his family members. He said that FBR officials refused to act until the conclusion of the Supreme Judicial Council's proceedings.

Justice Baqar asked whether the Assets Recovery Unit (ARU) had checked the credentials of the journalist, Abdul Hameed Dogar, who had first given the information on these properties of the apex court's judge's family.

“Have you asked who gave him this information and what was his background," asked Justice Baqar.

Dr Naseem replied that Dogar had refused to disclose his source, and argued that sources were big assets for journalists.

Justice Mansoor Ali Shah questioned Dr Naseem's argument that Justice Isa had revealed everything except the source of funds to purchase these flats and how those funds were transferred to the United Kingdom. He asked why Justice Isa should have to reveal the money trail. “Tell us which law bounds him to reveal the source of these funds," he asked.

Justice Mansoor Ali Shah said the petitioner was maintaining that his family members were independent and they should be approached about the source of funds.

He further asked the counsel to furnish details of complaints of individuals which were received by the ARU against public office holders and the actions which were initiated against such.

The federal lawyer read out the Supreme Judicial Council's showcause notice stating that Justice Isa had filed the reply over the notice therefore his petition against the reference was not maintainable. The hearing of case was adjourned until today.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020