The top judge’s proposal to elevate Sindh High Court Judge Justice Muneeb Akhtar as a Supreme Court judge has been accepted by the Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP).
The move was considered in a meeting of the JCP on Monday held under the chairmanship of Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar. Justice Akhtar is fourth on seniority list of the SHC judges.
A local media outfit reported that the move to promote a junior judge was questioned by Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) representative Yousaf Laghari who noted that three senior SHC judges, as well as the chief justices of other high courts, have not been considered. However, Laghari was told that this would not be the first time a junior judge was appointed to the apex court. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Nisar had also elevated in the apex court ahead of former Lahore High Court chief justice Khawaja Muhammad Sharif.
Similarly, the top court, in its judgment in the Faqir Khokhar case, had already maintained that the appointment of the SC judge is a fresh one and a junior judge can also be elevated.
Reportedly, Yousaf Laghari also raised the issue in this regard to amend the JCP Rules 2010. Proposed amendments will also be made in the rules which will be circulated to all members of the commission within seven days for further consideration. After the elevation of Justice Akhtar as a judge of the apex court, the SC will be at full strength. A senior lawyer said that Justice Akhtar would be a good addition to the apex court as he is a “superb jurist and a first-rate choice”. Justice Akhtar is the son-in-law of former law minister Khalid Anwar.
However, one section of lawyers, particularly those belonging to Sindh, raised objections over ignoring three senior most judges in this regard. The three SHC judges who would have been superseded after proposed elevation of Justice Akhtar had expressed their desire to remain at the high court. Justice Nisar contacted three senior SHC judges including Justice Ahmed Ali Sheikh, Justice Irfan Saadat Khan and Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi before making the decision.
Reportedly, according to the agenda of the meeting, the three judges expressed a desire to continue working at the SHC and after consultation with these judges, the CJP recommended the name of Justice Akhtar for appointment. In contrast, a section of lawyers believe the criteria of judges’ elevation should be competency and reputation, with seniority not being a primary factor.
One seat in the apex court fell vacant after the retirement of Justice Dost Muhammad Khan earlier this week. If Justice Akhtar is elevated to the apex court, then he will be in line to become the chief justice of Pakistan after the retirement of Justice Mansoor Ali Shah in 2027.