Chief Justice Islamabad High Court (IHC), Justice Athar Minallah, has set new benchmarks by giving unprecedented judgments against some of the country’s powerful elite and ensuring the rule of law at every cost.
Whether it is his judgement against the allotment of expensive plots to civil servants and judges by the government in its various schemes or protecting the Margalla National Park by halting unchecked commercial activities there or standing up for the issue of freedom of expression, Justice Minallah’s decisions reflect his commitment to the pro-people causes, which have been generally hailed by the civil society.
Under him, the IHC also suspended the balloting for the allotment of plots to judges and government officials in F-14 and F-15 Islamabad.
The IHC chief justice in his remarks said that while cases of the affected people of these sectors were under trial, the Federal Government Employees Housing Foundation (FGEHF) created an opportunity to benefit the judges. The IHC directed the capital’s civic agency and the FGEHA to resolve within a week all the compensation related issues of the affected people of different sectors.
In another landmark decision, the IHC ruled against the official policy of the allotment of second plots to the grade 22 officers and SC judges, sending the matter to the government for reconsideration. The IHC in its verdict also questioned the allotment of plots to those judicial officers, who were sacked on account of misconduct.
Justice Minallah, who has been serving as the chief justice of the IHC since November 28, 1018, was also declared man of the year in 2021 by the Centre for Governance Research (CGR) Pakistan for his principled and bold stance on the issue of the missing persons.
In a first of its kind case, the IHC indicted former chief judge, Gilgit-Baltistan, Rana Shamim, on charges of contempt of court for executing an affidavit in London in which he made allegations against former chief justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar.
Justice Minallah told Shamim that the charge was only to give him an opportunity to plead the case for a transparent trial. “You tried to scandalise the court… and now that the charges have been framed against you in open court, what do you have to say?” the IHC CJ asked Shamim.
The IHC, since its establishment in 2010, had witnessed several controversies. One IHC chief justice, Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman, had resign because of the sacking of employees. Then, there were misconduct proceedings against another IHC CJ Muhammad Anwar Kasi, who was later discharged by Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).
Another huge controversy resulted in the sacking of the IHC judge, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, by the SJC for his controversial speech at the Rawalpindi Bar Association in which he alleged the role of spy agencies in judicial proceedings.
However, the situation has changed since Justice Athar Minallah took charge as Chief Justice IHC in November 2018. Senior lawyers of the country are appreciating the way Justice Minallah has been dealing not just the sensitive cases, but also the public interest ones.
For the appointment of judges at the IHC, Justice Minallah has introduced transparency, merit and high standards. He has also initiated the process of internal accountability of the IHC.
Justice Minallah has already ordered for a forensic audit of the high court and the East and West Division of the district courts for the last five years.
At the same time, Justice Minallah shows restraint in adjudicating political matters as well as issues related to maladministration by advocating the supremacy of the Parliament.
Under his leadership, the IHC is giving priority to human rights and matters pertaining to civil liberties.
The IHC has also granted bails to several opposition leaders, including the PLM-N leaders Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, Khawaja Asif, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal, Miftah Ismail as well as the PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari and Faryal Talpur in graft cases in the last couple of years.
The IHC also protects the media rights in the country and has passed orders in matters of enforced disappearances. The IHC also came to the rescue of working journalists when the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) was harassing them.
The IHC took a strict stance when lawyers attacked the IHC building on February 8 last year and sent several lawyers behind bars and suspended their licenses for months. Such a decision was very difficult as no other high court has tried to hold lawyers accountable for their violent behavior.
To protect the environment, th4 Islamabad High Court ordered the closure of Monal Restaurant in Margalla National Park, and also ordered the CDA to take control of Pakistan Navy-run Golf Club.
Despite such bold decisions, including against the members of the legal fraternity, Justice Minallah still remains a favorite among lawyers.