By Muhammad Ahmad Noorani
ISLAMABAD: The Presidency is eying for yet another politically demanding goal, the extension to Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar without a constitutional amendment, but the president’s spokesman asserts that Dogar will retire on March 21.
Though constitutional experts including even those who are considered close to Justice Dogar believe that this is impossible without a constitutional amendment, legal minds surrounding President Zardari are considering to achieve this impossible task through a court order.
In the post-October 12, 1999 Constitution, the age for retirement of a Supreme Court judge was 65. However, according to constitutional experts, Musharraf, in his bid to continue with his favourite and handpicked judges for a long time, had increased this age limit from 65 to 68 years in his unconstitutional Legal Framework Order (LFO).
During the negotiations for 17th Amendment, the increase in retirement-age of the judges of the apex court was not accepted and it was again fixed at 65 years. Afterwards, a lawyer Maulvi Iqbal Haider, who was known to be close to official circles during the Musharraf-regime, moved a petition in the Supreme Court praying that the retirement-age limit for the apex court judges once extended could not be reduced. The said petition is still pending with the Supreme Court.
Though, constitutional experts SM Zafar and Dr Khalid Ranjha argue that the retirement age could be extended only through a constitutional amendment, senior PPP leader and Chairman National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice Begum Nasim Akhtar Chaudhry told The News Thursday that the age limit could be increased through a simple legislation, which could be passed by a simple majority.
According to sources in the government, President Zardari’s legal gurus see no way out for continuation in the power corridors if someone other than Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar becomes the Chief Justice. According to these sources, Zardari considers continuation of Justice Dogar as the Chief Justice crucial to get out of present crisis emerging in the wake of the lawyers’ long march.
In case, no unconstitutional step is taken, Justice Dogar will retire on March 21. A minister approached by The News termed the report about the proposal to give extension to Dogar for saving Zardari rule baseless. He said if the government wanted to give extension to Dogar, it would be done because of the competency of the incumbent CJ and not because of saving the rule of Zardari.
Senior constitutional expert SM Zafar told The News that there was no ambiguity whatsoever in the retirement age of a Supreme Court judge could only be increased through a constitutional amendment, which needed two-third majority.
Senior lawyer Dr Khalid Ranjha told The News “though the age could only be increased through a constitutional amendment but in a country like the one we are living in, anything could be done.” He said media persons and lawyers would condemn it but once the decision was delivered, it would be implemented like many other wrong things. When asked to comment, presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar told The News there was no question of Dogar getting an extension and he would retire on March 21.