Is LHC going to get a new chief justice?


Two vacant seats of judges in the Supreme Court (SC) have spawned all kinds of rumours in judicial circles, predicting Lahore High Court (LHC) Chief Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry’s elevation to the SC, leaving behind only two senior judges among a huge lot of 35 juniors judges – most of them still learning – to run the provincial high court. The question on the minds of everyone in the legal and judicial community these days is who will be the next chief justice of the LHC if Chaudhry is elevated to the SC? Some hint at Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, the senior-most judge in the list after Chaudhry and famous for his “judicial intelligence”, as the possible successor to Chaudhry.
The third in line in terms of seniority is Justice Umar Ata Bandial, who was appointed to the LHC in 2004 while the rest of the LHC judges began in 2011, 2010 and 2009. There has also been talk of Justice Iqbal Hameed Ur Rehman, who was earlier elevated to chief justice of the Islamabad High Court, being brought back and appointed chief justice of the LHC in Chaudhry’s place. However, lawyers vehemently oppose the elevation of LHC judges to the SC ignoring other high courts, despite the fact that the LHC is fast running out of senior judges required for it be run properly. The lawyers and judicial officials told Pakistan Today that a judicial crisis might be looming, saying that the LHC, the lawyers associated with it and litigants at large would face bad times if the court was left to the mercy of junior judges. There are currently a total of 38 judges at the LHC at present, while the required strength for the court is 64 judges. If he is not elevated to the SC, Chadury is set to retire December 14, 2012. Some say that if Justice Azmat Saeed is elevated to the SC, he would be sorely missed and the LHC would become “devoid of talent”.
Lately, the LHC has lost many senior judges via elevation to SC, which impedes its working. On February 18, 2010, two LHC judges Justice Saqib Nisar and Justice Asif Saeed Khoa were elevated to the SC, while on September 24, Justice Iqbal Hameed Ur Rehman was taken from the LHC and appointed chief justice of the Islamabad High Court. On the other hand, the senior-most judge after Chaudhry, Justice Chaudhry Iftikhar Hussain, retired on May 14, 2011 upon on attaining the age of superannuation (62 years). Though there is no ratio or quota of SC judges on a provincial basis and they may be taken from anywhere, the LHC being the largest court is often looked to for new SC recruits. It is tradition that after the retirement of an SC judge, his or her replacement should be taken from the same province to which the retiree belonged. The most recent vacancy in the SC was created upon the retirement of a judge from Punjab.
Lawyers said junior judges still needed a lot of training to deliver to the standards expected within the LHC administration and by the lawyers who come to argue their cases before them. Under Article 170 of the constitution, in order to be elevated to the SC a judge should have five years of experience in a high court, while 15 years of legal practice is required for appointment as a high court judge.