A day after Justice Aminud Din Khan recused himself from the bench hearing a case related to delayed polls in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail also offered his recusal, leaving only three of the five judges that had initially comprised the bench.
On Monday, a five-member bench comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial and Justices Ijazul Ahsan, Munib Akhtar, Khan and Mandokhail had taken up a plea filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) against the delay in elections. After daily hearings, the bench stood dissolved on Thursday when Justice Khan said he could not remain on the bench as he had been part of a 2-1 majority judgement with Justice Qazi Faez Isa that had ordered the suspension of all cases taken up under Article 184(3) of the Constitution until the Supreme Court Rules 1980 could be amended over the discretionary powers of the CJP to form benches.
Several hours after the dissolution of the bench, the apex court announced that hearings would resume on Friday with a four-member bench, as the CJP continued to resist calls from legal bodies and the government to end the controversy and form a full court bench to hear the case.
As proceedings commenced at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, the CJP halted Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan from advancing his arguments, saying Justice Mandokhail wished to say something. Recusing himself from the case, Justice Mandokhail remarked that he had been awaiting the order after Justice Khan’s recusal. “I received the order at home. I had written a separate note on the order,” he said, as he asked the AGP to read out the note.
In his note, the judge said that despite being a member of the bench, he had not been consulted on the order that had been issued. “I believe I am a misfit in the bench,” he wrote. “I pray whichever bench is formed in this case gives a verdict that is acceptable to everyone,” he said, while offering prayers for the apex court and maintaining that he and his fellow judges were bound to follow the Constitution.
“I wanted to say something yesterday as well, perhaps there was no need for advice from me while writing the judgment,” he wrote, adding that it seemed the remaining three members of the bench did not find him “worthy” of giving advice.
After the note had been fully read out, Justice Mandokhail attempted to speak further but was stopped by the CJP, who thanked him for the note. “Whatever decision is made on the formation of the bench will be announced in the court in a while,” he remarked.
Subsequently, court authorities announced that the hearing would resume after Friday prayers—with only the three remaining judges comprising the bench. Legal observers have warned that this would inevitably result in a controversial ruling and have reiterated calls for the CJP to form a full court bench to ensure that the judgment is acceptable to all stakeholders.