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Opinion
Thursday May 18, 2017
By

Out Of Turn, Out Of Place

Out Of Turn, Out Of Place

In 2013, the Supreme Court of Pakistan embarked upon a mission to put an end to the colonial concept of granting illegal benefits during service, which in Pakistan was being practised in the form of out-of-turn promotions to police officers across the country.

Justice Amir Hani Muslim, heading the three-member bench, led from the front in ensuring that the menace of out of promotion was dealt with once and for all.

This was the apex court’s second attempt to clamp down on the unfair practice. Previous judgments had faced resistance from senior bureaucrats looking to protect a few blue-eyed officers of the government.

The concept of out of turn promotions was first declared unconstitutional in a Supreme Court judgment back in 2011. And not only unconstitutional, the court also labelled it “unIslamic.” Court judgments are binding on the government. Yet, the then-federal and provincial governments failed to implement them.

Court judgments are binding on the government. Yet, the then-federal and provincial governments failed to implement them.

Then in 2013, while dealing with a Sindh police law and order case, a three-member bench, under Justice Hani, again took up the issue of out of turn promotions. The bench considered it to be one of the main reasons leading to the structural degradation of police in general and the Sindh police in particular. 

The court declared out of turn promotions illegal, unlawful, unconstitutional and unIslamic. In its verdict, the court highlights its ‘pernicious’ effects ranging from the distortion of seniority to the infringement of valuable rights of meritorious civil servants.

Copies of both the judgments were sent to the chief secretaries of all four provinces as well as the secretary establishment division.

Shortly after, the Sindh government, willingly or otherwise, implemented the court’s directions. But the Punjab government, it seems, looked the other way. The fact was brought to the judge’s attention when the SC was hearing a civil appeal filed by a Punjab police officer in January, this year. 

Justice Hani ordered for the undoing of out of turn promotions in the Punjab police within a period of four weeks, further directing the chief secretary Punjab, home secretary and IG Punjab to file an implementation report at the earliest.  

Then three months went by before the report finally made it to the court’s desk. It’s most fascinating feature was that the home secretary objected to the report filed by the IGP wherein the IGP, after providing the out of turn promotes an opportunity of hearing, withdrew the said promotions. The court appreciated the role of the AIG Legal, Punjab and others, which includes the Advocate General Punjab.

This was an unprecedented move by the police chief.

Justice Hani declared the act of reviewing the orders by the IGP as valid and ordered for the de-notification of officers who were still enjoying out of turn promotions within ten days.

But, unsurprisingly, the Punjab government paid no heed whatsoever to the said judgment or to its own IGP’s report.

Desperate, the police officers that had been wronged filed contempt petitions for their rightful elevations.

Now the said petitions are being heard by a three-member bench of the SC headed by Justice Azmat Saeed. This will be the third time the issue has landed in court.

The Punjab government’s disregard is a clear violation of Article 189 of the Constitution of 1973, which requires them to abide by the decisions of the SC in letter and spirit.

The legacy of the Supreme Court judge Justice Hani appears to be in grave danger. It is the judiciary’s most important duty to protect it. Justice Hani undertook the most daunting exercise of reforming the civil structure of Pakistan with grace and vigour. He was an exceptional judge with superb command over service law matters. His judgments will not only provide guidance to the new entrants of the legal profession in ascertaining the true import of the law but the members of the Bench will also benefit from his wisdom, who gave new dimensions to the concept of judicial interpretation.

In the word of Chief Justice Saqib Nisar: “His judgments are reflective of his legal acumen, diligence, fairness, neutrality and strong hold on the law. He tackled the issue of out of turn promotions in the police force and the civil service and his leading judgments in this and related matters have done much to reform these services. We can all admire this single-minded determination to cause justice to be done though the heavens may fall.”

 

The writer is an Advocate High Court, practising in Lahore. He tweets as @pansota1

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