SC begins hearing suo motu on IHC judges’ letter

In Local
April 03, 2024


Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa said on Wednesday that an “attack” on the independence of the judiciary will not be tolerated as he hinted towards forming a full court as the apex court commenced hearing the suo motu on a letter by six Islamabad High Court (IHC) judges alleging interference by the country’s intelligence apparatus in judicial affairs.

The move came after former chief justice of Pakistan Tassaduq Hussain Jillani recused himself from heading a one-man inquiry commission formed by the government to investigate the claims.

A seven-member bench of the apex court, presided by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa and comprising justices Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Jamal Khan Mandokhail, Athar Minallah, Musarrat Hilali, Yahya Afridi, and Naeem Akhtar Afghan, is hearing the case.

The proceedings are being broadcast on the SC’s website and its YouTube channel.

During the hearing today, Attorney General for Pakistan Mansoor Usman Awan appeared before the court alongside Hamid Khan, representing former Prime Minister Imran Khan, and Ahmed Hussain, who appeared as counsel for Aitzaz.

At the beginning of the hearing, Hamid informed the court of his request to be included as a respondent in the case. Chief Justice Isa responded, stating, “Gone are the days when it was the chief justice’s will. We have constituted a committee to fix cases [for hearing].”

He noted the absence of Hamid’s petition, adding that the committee would decide on the matter once the plea was received.

The Chief Justice also expressed concern over petitions being reported in the media before they were even filed, deeming it “inappropriate.”

He pondered, “When we talk about pressure being exerted, is this also exerting pressure on us in a way?” and emphasized his stance of never giving in to any pressure.

Justice Isa expressed displeasure at lawyers calling for suo motu notices, stating, “The lawyers are saying to take a suo motu [notice]; then they should leave their practice.”

AGP Awan then read out the press release issued by the top court after the meeting between the CJP and PM Shehbaz on March 28.

Recalling his meeting with the IHC judges the day he received their letter, Justice Isa questioned, “If we had not given importance to this matter, then could this meeting not be held after Ramazan?”

He emphasized that a full court acted as an “administrative body and does not play a judicial function.”

Referring to his meeting with PM Shehbaz, Justice Isa clarified that he met the premier as the “administrative head” of the SC, stressing that it was an “official administrative” meeting.

AGP Awan also highlighted inappropriate comments made on social media about the inquiry commission formed, mentioning ex-CJP Nasirul Mulk’s name and PM Shehbaz’s meeting with Jillani.

Responding to concerns about attacks on the judiciary’s independence, CJP Isa asserted, “If there is any kind of attack on the judiciary’s independence, I would be at the frontline [in defending judiciary] and for sure, my fellow judges would be standing with me in this. And we never accept interference.

“If someone has another agenda to do so and so, then they may become the Supreme Court Bar president or the chief justice and enact his will. We will not tolerate pressure of this kind,” he added.

AGP Awan emphasized the inquiry commission’s powers, while CJP Isa clarified that the SC does not have the authority to form a commission according to the Constitution.

The AGP urged the chief justice to consider the portion of the IHC judges’ letter pertaining to the SJC.

CJP Isa reiterated the need for institutions to remain within their limits and stressed the importance of accountability. “Every institution should remain within its limits. It might be that in the past our institution might have gone beyond its limits, but that is not the case now,” said Justice Isa.

The hearing also discussed the case of former IHC judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui and the issue of political engineering.

The letter

The situation unfolded after a group of lawyers and civil society members on Sunday urged the top court to initiate suo motu proceedings on the matter, as it rejected the ‘powerless’ one-man commission.

Through a letter, they urged the top court to take “cognisance of the matter in its jurisdiction under Article 184(3) of the Constitution as this issue eminently relates to public interest and to the enforcement of fundamental rights”.

In a startling letter written to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) members, the IHC judges had accused the country’s intelligence apparatus of pressurizing judges through abduction and torture of their relatives and secret surveillance inside their homes.

The letter, addressed to Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa, Supreme Court Justices Mansoor Ali Shah and Munib Akhtar and chief justices of the IHC and the Peshawar High Court, also questioned if there exists a state police to “intimidate” and coerce judges.

Read SC takes suo motu after Jillani nixes panel

The letter, dated March 25, was signed by Justices Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri, Babar Sattar, Sardar Ejaz Ishaq Khan, Arbab Muhammad Tahir and Saman Rafat Imtiaz of the IHC.

Former CJP recuses himself from commission

Earlier in his letter sent to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif dated April 1, Justice (retd) Jillani said, “Since the letter is addressed to the members of the Supreme Judicial Council and its chairman, the chief justice of Pakistan, it would be violative of judicial propriety for me to inquire into a matter which may fall within the jurisdiction of a constitutional body which is the Supreme Judicial Council or the Supreme Court of Pakistan itself.”

Thanking the premier and the cabinet for reposing confidence in him to head the commission, the retired judge stated the terms of the reference for the inquiry are not “strictly” relevant to the subject under consideration.

Justice (retd) Jillani further added that the request made in the letter is for an “institutional consultation”, with the terms of the mechanism suggested in the letter. He further added that the letter may not strictly fall within the parameters of Article 209 of the Constitution.

“For the afore-referred reasons, I recuse myself to head the commission and proceed with the inquiry.

Under the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the commission formed by the government, the inquiry commission will fully probe the allegations levelled by the IHC judges and decide whether these are true or otherwise.

It will investigate whether any personnel (of intelligence agencies) are directly responsible for interfering in judicial matters.

“The inquiry commission under its findings will recommend action against anyone from the intelligence agency, department, or government if found involved in such issue. It could, if found necessary during the course of its proceedings, probe other related issues as well.”

 

 

 

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