Independent Woman Standing Up For Husband And Herself: Why Sarina Isa Rattles Them
On 26th April Sarina Isa must have breathed a sigh of relief: by a 6-4 verdict, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had accepted the review petition she had filed against its order of 19th June 2020 and had recalled and set aside the directions it had issued to the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to investigate the source of funds with which she had purchased three London properties jointly with her children.
Unfortunately, however, her feeling of respite was fleeting. Almost immediately after the short order of the court had been announced, social, broadcast and print media erupted with insinuations against the court for exonerating Sarina Isa and against Sarina Isa herself. Almost a month later, these insinuations show no signs of abating. In fact, the co-ordination with which more and more significant persons have joined the chorus makes one wonder why exactly Sarina Isa is being targeted.
To understand the reaction that the acceptance of Sarina Isa’s review petition seems to have evoked, it is important to recall her connection with the reference filed against her husband, Justice Qazi Faez Isa, as well as the reasons for which she had filed the review petition before the Supreme Court.
Sarina Isa’s connection with the Presidential reference against her husband is well documented: the three London properties held jointly in her and her children’s names were the basis of the allegations of corruption made against Justice Isa more than two years ago. Justice Isa maintained that he neither owned nor had paid for these properties and, therefore, was under no obligation to either declare these or to be answerable for these in any manner whatsoever. In fact, Sarina Isa had voluntarily appeared before the Court as it heard the petition filed by her husband, to confirm this position. Ironically, however, whilst her efforts contributed to the Court exonerating Justice Isa and quashing the reference, they also led to it directing the Federal Board of Revenue to proceed against her.
The detailed judgement of the Supreme Court in this regard makes for interesting reading. Justice Bandial who penned the judgment recognises that the jurisdiction of the Supreme Judicial Council does not extend to the spouse of a judge. Regardless, however, he invokes a higher unwritten, moral duty and Justice Isa and Sarina Isa’s willingness to appear before the Court as a pretext for his unprecedented order.
Three out of the ten judges hearing Justice Isa’s petition dissented and Justice Mansoor Ali Shah most eloquently questioning the legality of such an order. Nevertheless, as it does in all matters, the majority view of the Court prevailed and Sarina Isa, despite not having been a party to the petition then being heard, was brought in its ambit.
Sarina Isa, along with several other petitioners, filed a petition the day after the short order was announced seeking a review of the portion of the 19th June order that that had directed the FBR to investigate Sarina Isa’s sources of funds. Therefore, the Supreme Court’s 26th April decision, which is in response to these review petitions only quashes the part of the order that gives these directions and has no bearing on Justice Isa’s innocence which had already been established through the 19th June order which remains unchallenged. If for some reason, the review had not been allowed it would still not have resulted in an implication of Justice Isa in any way.
The question to ask then, is, what is behind this relentless campaign against Sarina Isa? One possibility might be that these commentators think the Supreme Court has made a mistake in allowing the review. Such a view is not only in contempt of the Court but also begs the question of what special knowledge, let alone understanding of the law, these commentators have that makes them believe that the decision arrived by the Court is not correct? Doubting this verdict is doubting the integrity of the Court not only in this decision but in all work that it undertakes and flouts the foundations of the rule of law itself.
Another possibility might be that these commentators are concerned about the split 6-4 split in the verdict. It is interesting, therefore, to ask why they were not concerned about the 7-3 split in the 19/6 verdict. It appears that the actions of certain judges inspire more confidence in these commentators regardless of which side they are not on. What is not clear is the reason for which these judges inspire confidence.
A third possibility that seems most plausible is that these self-styled commentators—some of whom are senior lawyers and government officials—can neither understand nor accept a woman who is strong, has an identity and means independent of her husband, and has the courage, not only to speak on behalf of her husband but also for herself.
By directing their venom against Sarina Isa these commentators are not only making her a scapegoat for her husband, who remains their real target, but are also relegating her to the status of an appendage — the only position considered acceptable for a woman in Pakistan. However, what these commentators do not realise is that they are dealing with a different kind of people.
Most judges against whom references have been filed in the past have resigned. Justice Isa, however, preferred to remain and clear his name at a considerable cost to himself and to his family, because he values his integrity above all else. Sarina Isa is no less.
The author is a Lincoln’s Inn barrister and an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. She also holds a PhD in law from University College London. She lectures at Coventry Law School and is a Teaching Fellow at UCL and a Senior Research Fellow at the UCL Centre for Law, Economics and Society.