ISLAMABAD – In what appears to be for the first time in the judicial history of the country, two of the serving judges of Islamabad High Court have been served with notices by the Supreme Court of Pakistan for receiving a hefty fee from Employees’ Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI).
Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani – who were part of the bench that disqualified former Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif – have been asked to explain why as private counsel they had charged a professional fee from the EOBI when the same had not been approved by federal law department, the law ministry.
The notices were issued by a two-judge SC bench comprising Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan and many other lawyers have also been asked the same conundrum.
According to the rules, the federal departments cannot hire any private counsel without the approval of the law ministry provided the fee being charged exceeds Rs100,000.
The top court wondered how the department had engaged these counsel without the approval when the money spent was taken from the national exchequer, asking the judges in question to appear before the bench and explain their position.
During the last hearing on Friday, Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Sohail Mahmood informed the bench that Rs50 million had been spent by the EOBI on lawyers’ fee of whom two had been elevated as judges of the Islamabad High Court.
The list of fees suggests that Justice Minallah as lawyer got Rs850,000 (Rs 0.85 million) in 2012, whereas A.Q Law Associate, where Justice Kayani was working as an associate, received Rs658,000 (Rs 0.658 million) by the EOBI, the same year.
The court was also informed that the EOBI had roped in different private counsels in 87 cases in violation of rules.
Regarding the lawyers, the EOBI engaged Advocate Babar Sattar in 34 cases for millions of rupees without getting approval from the law ministry.
Moreover, Fakhar Zaman Tarar, Ahmed Shehzad Farooq, Sarfraz Ali Metlo, Syed Ahmed Ali Shah and Gohar Ali Khan also appeared in several cases and got the handsome amount.
DAG Mahmood told the court that EOBI had also hired senior counsel Khawaja Haris and Rasheed A. Rizvi, but hastened to add that they were engaged after the approval of the law ministry.
Moreover, the EOBI engaged Aitzaz Ahsan in one case and paid him Rs 2.5 million with the go-ahead of the law ministry, but in the second case where he received Rs 0.7 million, the department did not get approval.
In a Feb 8, 2017 judgement, Justice Qazi Faez Isa had also highlighted that private counsels were being hired for huge fees despite the presence of a full-fledged attorney general office and the provincial advocate general’s offices.
Justice Isa had remarked that if the governments did not follow the order before engaging a private advocate, then any statement made before a court would not be binding on the government concerned.
Subsequently, the federal government amended rules of business by allowing its departments to engage private lawyers after consulting the Attorney General of Pakistan.
Justice Athar Minallah
Justice Athar, the former spokesman for ex-Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry had taken oath as an additional judge of the Islamabad High Court in June 2014 and was confirmed as permanent High Court Judge in May 2016.
Justice Minallah is the eldest son of Nasrum Minallah, who remained commissioner during 1960s and 70s. He remained a caretaker minister in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government during the regime of Gen Pervez Musharraf.
He joined the lawyers’ movement for restoration of the judiciary after then top judge Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was sacked.
Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani
Justice Kayani was the first Islamabad-based judge who was appointed as Judge of Islamabad High Court in 2015.
In a recent judgment, Justice Kayani ruled that the retired judges can only get specified post-retirement benefits mentioned in The Supreme Court Judges Leave, Pension and Privileges Order, 1999.