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Pak acting CJ's appointment challenged

March 29, 2007 16:47 IST

The appointment of a Hindu judge as Pakistan's acting chief justice as well as head of the Supreme Judicial Council has been challenged in the Supreme Court.

A petition filed by one Shahid Orakzai questioned the "relegation" of a Muslim chief justice and the appointment of a non-Muslim judge to the post.

In his petition, Orakzai asked the court to declare that the religious status of a citizen should take precedence over the seniority of service as a judge of the apex court to act as the acting chief justice.

The court is yet to admit the petition. Justice Rana Bagwandas, a Hindu, was appointed as ACJ as he was the senior-most judge in the apex court.

His appointment followed the suspension of Chief Justice Iftikar Muhammad Chaudhry on the grounds of misconduct and misuse of authority by President Pervez Musharraf on March 9.

Supreme Court Judge Justice Javed Iqbal has defended the move to make Justice Bhagwandas as ACJ, saying there was no bar in the Constitution on a non-Muslim heading the apex court and cited the example of Justice Cornelius, a Christian, holding the post in the 1960s.

Once before, a petition questioned Justice Bhagwandas's appointment as judge of Sindh high court on the grounds that he was not a Muslim, but it was dismissed.

Another petition filed on Wednesday in the Supreme Court said Justice Bhagwandas cannot head the five-judge Supreme Judicial Council conducting the trial against the suspended chief justice.

In his petition, Barrister Zafarullah Khan said under the previous judgments of the apex court, the ACJ cannot head the SJC, which would be resuming the trial on April 3.

"Acting chief justices are allowed to function for a short time, and the composition of the SJC becomes imperfect in the absence of the permanent chief justice, and the body as such becomes non-functional," he said in his petition.

The petition said the chief justice was not on leave and cannot be suspended.

It further said that only the Supreme Court could determine whether Chaudhry was unable to perform his duties or not.

Khan also challenged the SJC's chairmanship by Justice Bhagwandas in addition to seeking the exclusion of those judges from the SJC against whom references of misconduct were pending.

The government, the law ministry and the SJC have been made respondents to the petition, Dawn reported.

Justice Chaudhry's lawyers, meanwhile, said they could move the Supreme Judicial Council to call the president and prime minister to give testimony in the reference against their client.

"Of course, we would move such an application if we feel it necessary," Ali Ahmed Kurd, who is part of Chaudhry's defence team told Daily Times.

However, the question was premature as the SJC had not formally started hearing the reference, he said. "First, the SJC has to take up the chief justice's objections over the council's composition," Kurd said.

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