Home Latest News SC Fixes Hearing of Reference against Zulfikar Bhutto’s Death Sentence on Dec. 12

SC Fixes Hearing of Reference against Zulfikar Bhutto’s Death Sentence on Dec. 12

Nine-member larger bench to revisit 1979 ruling on presidential reference pending since 2011

by Staff Report

File photo. Farooq Naeem—AFP

The Supreme Court on Thursday announced a nine-member larger bench will commence hearing a presidential reference seeking to revisit the 1979 death sentence awarded to former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto from Dec. 12 (Tuesday).

Headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa, the bench comprises Justices Sardar Tariq Masood, Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Yahya Afridi, Aminud Din Khan, Jamal Khan Mandokhel, Muhammad Ali Mazhar, Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi and Musarrat Hilali.

The long-pending reference, filed on behalf of then-president Asif Ali Zardari on April 12, 2011, had sought the apex court’s opinion on revisiting the death sentence awarded to former prime minister Bhutto, also the founder of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), under the Supreme Court’s advisory jurisdiction. It was filed before the Supreme Court under Article 186(1) and Article 186(2) of the Constitution, which empowers the president to refer any question of public importance to the Supreme Court to seek its opinion on an issue.

When the case was filed in 2011, it was taken up by a larger bench comprising then-CJP Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and since retired judges Javed Iqbal, Mian Shakirullah Jan, Nasirul Mulk, Muhammad Said Ali, Mahmood Akhtar Shahid Siddiqui, Jawad S. Khawaja, Anwar Zaheer Jamali, Khilji Arif Hussain, Sarmad Jalal Osmany and Ghulam Rabbani. Following CJP Chaudhry’s retirement, the matter had remained pending, with no subsequent CJP fixing it for hearing.

Bhutto was awarded a sentence in March 1979 through a split verdict of four-to-three after a seven-member Supreme Court bench upheld a Lahore High Court verdict from a year prior. The case was taken up after military dictator Gen. Ziaul Haq overthrew the PPP government in July 1977, and has long been cited as a case of “judicial murder” by critics.

Former IHC judge

Also on Thursday, the Supreme Court announced a five-member bench would resume hearing from Dec. 14 an appeal moved by former Islamabad High Court (IHC) judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, seeking his restoration as a permanent judge by setting aside an Oct. 11, 2018, notification of his removal. Siddiqui reached superannuation on June 30, 2021, while the case was still pending. He currently works as a lawyer based in the federal capital.

The bench fixed to hear the case comprises the CJP and Justices Aminud Din Khan, Jamal Khan Mandokhel, Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi and Irfan Saadat Khan.

Siddiqui was removed as a judge of the IHC on the recommendation of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) under Article 209 of the Constitution for displaying conduct unbecoming of a judge by delivering a speech on July 21, 2018, at the District Bar Association of Rawalpindi. In his appeal, the former judge had sought to explain that he was compelled to deliver his address and discuss how certain state officials, specifically within the ISI, were involved in the affairs of the judiciary in a bid to allegedly manipulate the formation of the benches of the high court. The appeal had contended the petitioner’s speech was an honest attempt demanded by his conscience to counter the challenges posed to the independence of the judiciary.

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