Syed Sajjad Ali Shah

Chief Justice – High Court
Syed Sajjad Ali Shah

He was born on February 17, 1933 at Karachi, schooled at Sindh Madressa-tul-Islam and did his Matriculation in 1951. He later joined D.J. Science College, Karachi and after passing 1st Year Science Biology Group switched over to arts. After graduating in Political Science and General History from Sindh Muslim College in 1956 left for England and was admitted in Lincoln’s Inn. Called to the Bar in 1959 and was an Advocate of the erstwhile High Court of West Pakistan in January 1961. Appointed as District Public Prosecutor and Government Pleader, Lasbella, with Headquarters at Karachi in 1963 and was allowed private practice at Karachi.

Appointed as Additional District & Sessions Judge against a vacancy reserved for members of the Bar in 1967. Served as District and Sessions Judge in various Districts in the Punjab during one Unit period and after its disintegration, in Sindh. Appointed as Joint Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Law and Parliamentary Affairs January 1974. Posted as Registrar of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1977.

Elevated as Judge of High Court of Sindh in 1987. Held extra assignments as Custodian of Evacuee Properties in the Province of Sindh, Chairman, Special Court under Suppression of Terrorist Activities (Special Courts) Act, 1975; Special Appellate Court (Customs) and Chairman, Provincial Election Authority, Sindh (for elections to the local bodies), Member Syndicate, Senate and Election Board of Mehran University of Engineering and Technology, Member of the Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi Board of Trustees, Election Tribunal appointed by Election Commission of Pakistan in respect of General Elections held in the year 1985.Participated in a programme titled “Introduction to Computer and Technology in Courts” at National Judicial College, Reno, Nevada, USA Chief Justice, High Court of Sindh, Karachi from 1989-1990.Elevated to Judge, Supreme Court of Pakistan from 1990-1994.

As Chief Justice of Supreme Court

When Dr. Nasim Hasan Shah retired as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1994, Justice Saad Saud Jan should have taken his place based on seniority. But Ms Benazir Bhutto threw tradition overboard, when she by-passed two senior judges and appointed Sajjad Ali Shah as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Later, she was dismissed by President Farooq Leghari on charges of corruption and Sajjad Ali Shah along with 6 other members of the Supreme Court upheld this decision. Reading from a 12-page short order, Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah said.

    The presidential order contained enough substance and adequate material had been provided to conclude that the government could not be run in accordance with the provisions of the constitution and that an appeal to the electorate had become necessary.

Government-judiciary row and intra-judiciary scuffle

Nawaz Sharif & Shah tussle

Sajjad Ali Shah was the lone dissenter in the 11-member bench, whose decision restored Nawaz Sharif to power in May 1993 after he had been booted out by the then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Shah also ordered the release of some civil servants, who had been arrested on the orders of Sharif. These events became the starting point of a long tussle between the two men. The first confrontation by Sharif was the establishment of special Courts, which were established in contravention of the Chief Justice’s judicious advice. These special courts, which were established to benefit the allies and supporters of the Prime Minister, eventually proved to be a humiliating blot on the face of justice in Pakistan. Later, when the Chief Justice wanted to fill five vacant judicial positions for carrying out the business of dispensing justice in a speedy manner, the Prime Minister not only refused to grant the request but went ahead and abolished those vacancies altogether. He had to restore the positions under pressure but refused to fill them up.

Judges vs. judges

In his self-imposed war against the Chief Justice, Nawaz Sharif succeeded in dividing the judges into two camps. The infamous Article 58(2)(b) a.k.a Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan was restored and suspended within minutes by two separate benches of the apex court assembled against each other. A 3 member bench headed by Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah suspended the operation of the Thirteenth Amendment restoring the powers of the president to dissolve the National Assembly, a verdict which was within minutes set aside by another 10-member bench.The 10-member bench headed by Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui granted stay against the chief justice’s order minutes after it was passed, without receiving any formal petition, a formal complaint was issued by an advocate on which the notice was taken and the decision of the Chief Justice was set aside. All efforts to resolve the judicial crisis failed as both the judges’ groups stuck to their stance and issued separate cause lists.The dissident judges, who did not acknowledge Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah as chief justice, issued a fresh cause list for 15 members’ full court session. The full court, headed by Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, took up petitions questioning the validity of chief justice’s appointment.

Case at Peshawar Bench of the Supreme Court

A Supreme Court bench took up the case of controversy of the appointment of Sajjad Ali Shah as Chief Justice. Two Judges of Supreme Court namely, Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui and Fazal-e-Ilahi Khan passed an interim order against the Chief Justice from performing the function of Chief Justice of Pakistan, due to his political appointment, during Benazir Bhutto’s tenure. This Bench also wrote a letter to Army and other administrative authorities to execute the order of Supreme Court.

Mian Muhibullah Kakakhel Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of Pakistan filed an application before the court to represent Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah against the brutal Judicial attack and pleaded in favour of Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah.

The stand off with Quetta Bench of the Supreme Court

Quetta bench of the apex court held the appointment of Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah in abeyance till further orders and restrained him from performing judicial and administrative functions. The bench also held in abeyance the operation of the notification of June 5, 1994 issued by the president appointing Justice Sajjad Ali Shah as the Chief Justice of Pakistan. The Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, declared the order of the two-member Supreme Court bench at Quetta “without lawful authority”, and directed the assistant registrar, Quetta registry, not to fix any case before the two judges till further orders.Justice Shah, whose appointment as the chief justice was held in abeyance by the two-member bench, continued working as the chief justice of Pakistan.In his order the chief justice observed that under Order XXV of the Supreme Court Rules, 1980, a petition under Article 184(3) under the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court was to be filed only at the principal seat and not at any other registry.He said;

    In this respect there are orders and directions that if any such petition under that provision Article 184(3) is filed at any other registry,it is to be forwarded straight-away to the principal seat for orders to be obtained from the chief justice for its fixation before a proper bench.

He observed that if any orders had been passed in that petition they should be deemed to have not taken effect for the reason that proper procedure had been followed.

Justice Sajjad Ali Shah further stated that even registration number could not be given to such petitions at the registry without the permission or express orders of the chief justice. The CJ directed that the record of the above mentioned petition may be summoned immediately from Quetta Registry for placement before him for further orders in this respect.

Justice Shah further observed that “honourable” judges present at the Quetta registry had acted without lawful authority and directed the assistant registrar of Quetta registry not to fix cases before them for disposal until further orders.

It is the second instance in the judicial history of Pakistan when two judges of the Supreme Court were asked not to perform their duties. Earlier in 1996, two ad hoc judges of the Supreme Court were asked by the same chief justice not to perform their judicial functions .The Quetta bench of the Supreme Court later held that the impugned executive order of the Chief Justice is nullity and is to be ignored. The bench also over-ruled the executive order of Chief Justice Syed Sajjad Ali Shah regarding not fixing the cases before it.

When the proceedings of the court started, it was pointed out to the bench that a fax has been received from Chief Justice Syed Sajjad Ali Shah with the direction to the Assistant Registrar, Quetta Registry that no case should be fixed for hearing before the said bench until further orders.One of the senior judge observed that;

    it is misconduct on the part of Chief Justice as none of the Supreme Court judge can be restrained from the work on executive order and said that judicial order had already suspended the Chief Justice to perform his duties as Chief Justice.

The full bench after ignoring the orders of the Chief Justice disposed off 10 cases. These cases were fixed before the bench by Advocate General Balochistan and counsels of different petitioners. The court had also ordered the Chief Justice of Pakistan that he should not perform his judicial and administrative duties as Chief Justice till the decision of the said bench regarding the petition. Notices in this regard had been issued to Attorney General, Deputy Attorney general and others.The Supreme Court’s circuit bench at Peshawar endorsed the verdict of the Quetta bench on a petition challenging the appointment of Justice Sajjad Ali Shah as chief justice of Pakistan.But Justice Sajjad Ali Shah persevered and continued hearing the contempt case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Finally that infamous attack on the Supreme Court on November 28, 1997 took place.

President and the army

Then Two high-level meetings at the Aiwan-i-Sadr took place but failed to resolve the political crisis. Army chief Gen Jehangir Karamat had not so far come up with a solution acceptable to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah.

Later after the incident occurred, Former Chief of Pakistan Army, Gen (Rtd) Jehangir Karamat, refused to send troops to dispel a mob attack on Pakistan’s Supreme Court in 1997 despite pleas from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court since as he said, he was obliged to uphold the constitution of Pakistan. Gen Karamat pointed out that there was an established chain of command and any instructions of that sort should have come from the elected prime minister and the president, who is also the supreme commander.

Reinforcing his argument General Karamat said a precedent would have been established if he had acted on the former Chief Justice Shah’s request, promoting chief justices of provincial high courts to make demands on corps commanders to deal with certain situations. That’s why, he said, he decided to keep the army out of the political trappings.

The attack on the Supreme Court by the Nawaz Sharif’s men

Pakistan grappled with its worst-ever constitutional crisis when an unruly mob stormed into the supreme court, forcing Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah to adjourn the contempt of court case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Hundreds of Pakistan Muslim League supporters and members of its youth wing, the Muslim Students Front (MSF), breached the police cordon around the courthouse when defence lawyer S.M. Zafar was arguing his case.

A journalist rushed into the courtroom and warned the bench of an impending attack. Whereupon, the chief justice got up abruptly, thanked Zafar and adjourned the hearing. While judicial members left the courtroom soon after, the mob entered it shouting slogans, and damaged furniture.

The unruly mob, led by ruling party member from Punjab Sardar Naseem and Colonel (retired) Mushtaq Tahir Kheli, Sharif’s political secretary, chanted slogans against the chief justice. Famous PTV anchor Tariq Aziz threw and broke the portrait of the founder of Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The mob also beat up Pakistan Peoples Party senator Iqbal Haider. The police managed to restore normalcy after baton charging and teargassing the mob, both inside and outside the courthouse. The court which assembled at 9:45 a.m., could continue the proceedings for only about 45 minutes.

Shah & the letter to the President

Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah requested President Farooq Leghari to take steps to post army or paramilitary soldiers in the Supreme Court building, and at the residences of the chief justice and other judges hearing the contempt case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

In his letter Justice Sajjad Ali Shah narrated the incidents which took place in the court. He stated that during the hearing of the contempt case against the prime minister and others, certain advocates stooped to rowdiness. He said some of the intruders were overheard saying that they wanted to take the CJ hostage.

The case was adjourned and the judges were taken to the chamber of the chief justice under police escort. He said after Thursday’s rowdy scenes in the court room, he had directed the registrar to issue passes only to people concerned as usually government supporters jam-packed the court. The chief justice further said several people had informed him over telephone that a BBC report about the attack showed policemen doing nothing to stop the mob.

He said when court officials present at the gate asked the police as to why they were not preventing the crowd from entering the premises, they replied that since most of the protesters were government supporters, they were helpless.

Justice Sajjad said films were available with court officials to show how big the crowds were and how they broke into the court room. He further said court officials told him that when the mob was dispersing, they heard announcements that arrangements had been made for lunch at the Punjab House.

Stance of Sindh High Court

A division bench of the High Court of Sindh requested the Chief Justice of Pakistan to convene a full court meeting of the SC, to be chaired by himself, to consider the controversy surrounding his appointment.However, The Supreme Court Quetta bench maintained its interim order suspending Chief Justice Syed Sajjad Ali Shah and barring him from performing administrative and judicial functions. The bench referred the matter to the full court for final decision.

Justice Sajjad Ali Shah informed the 10-member bench that he would contest the case, and engaged Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, a prominent lawyer, to represent him.

Resignation of President of Pakistan Farooq Leghari

A severe blow to the Justice Sajjad Ali Shah came when President Farooq Leghari tendered his resignation saying he could not violate the Constitution and the law to oblige the Government. Speaking at a press conference Mr. Leghari said he had opted to resign because he did not want to become a party to the violation of law and the Constitution. He said he had received a summary from the Government asking him to de-notify the appointment of Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah and appoint Justice Ajmal Mian as the acting Chief Justice of Pakistan. Wasim Sajjad, Chairman Senate, assumed office of the acting President. Under the Constitution, on the occurrence of a vacancy in the office of the President, the Chairman of the Senate acts as the President. The new president shall have to be elected not later than 30 days’ period.

Acting CJ appointed

Later Justice Ajmal Mian, the senior-most Judge, was sworn in as acting Chief Justice of Pakistan. Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui administered the oath. The ceremony was attended by Governors of all the four provinces, three Chief Ministers, two Federal Ministers, Judges of the Supreme Court, Federal Shariat Court (FSC), High Courts, retired Judges of the Supreme Court, the Attorney-General and senior lawyers of the apex Court. Justice Ajmal Mian was one of three judges who were superseded by Justice Sajjad Ali Shah in 1994. Up until this clash of the Government and Judiciary, none of Justice Sajjad Ali Shah’s colleagues had ever questioned his appointment and even his past decisions up until this time cannot be questioned. The Nawaz Sharif government said at this point the Supreme Court is free to do what it likes. Justice Sajjad Ali Shah expressed shock and surprise at the decision to remove him.Those who have followed Justice Sajjad Ali Shah in the Supreme Chair have still to identify and punish the desecrators of the people’s apex court.

Permanent CJ Supreme Court

Justice Ajmal Mian took administrative control of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and fixed a new roaster and issued a new cause-list. Justice Ajmal Mian constituted six benches including the ten-member bench which continued hearing of the petitions challenging the appointment of Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah as Chief Justice of Pakistan.The ten-member bench also took up the petition challenging the Thirteenth Amendment. After the conclusion of two cases, Ajmal Mian was appointed as permanent Chief Justice on December 23, 1997.

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