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Govt seeks more time to file response in IHC judges letter case

AGP Awan urges Supreme Court to give him a day’s time: PBC lawyer suggests formation of judicial commission to probe the matter

By News Desk

May 7, 2024 09:34 AM


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The Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) on Tuesday sought more time from the Supreme Court to submit the government’s response as a six-judge bench resumed hearing of a case pertaining to allegations levelled by six Islamabad High Court (IHC) judges regarding interference by the country’s intelligence agencies in judicial matters, reported 24NewsHD TV channel.

AGP Mansoor Usman Awan urged the apex court for more time to present his arguments as he had not received a copy of the April 30 hearing, and he also had to talk to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on the issue. He urged the court to allow him a day’s time.

Led by Chief Justice of Pa­­kistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa, the bench comprised of Justices Mansoor Ali Shah, Athar Minallah, Jamal Khan Mando­khail, Musarrat Hilali and Naeem Akhtar Afghan.

In March last, six IHC judges had written a startling letter to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) about attempts to pressure judges through abduction and torture of their relatives as well as secret surveillance inside their homes.

The letter was signed by judges Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri, Babar Sattar, Sardar Ejaz Ishaq Khan, Arbab Muhammad Tahir and Saman Rafat Imtiaz.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwrn-Or6Axs

In a meeting, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and CJP Qazi Isa had decided to form an inquiry commission, which was later approved by the federal cabinet. However, ex-CJP Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, tasked to head the one-man inquiry commission, had recused himself from the role, urging Justice Qazi Isa to “resolve the issues raised in the letter at the institutional level”. At the same time, the top court had also taken suo motu notice of the matter.

Justice Yahya Afridi, who was among the seven-member bench that presided over the last hearing, had also recused himself from the case. At the previous hearing, CJP Isa had maintained that “any attack” on the judiciary’s independence would not be tolerated while hinting at forming a full court to hear the case.

As today’s hearing began, AGP Mansoor Awan requested the court for more time to present his arguments as he had not received a copy of the April 30 hearing. Stating that he also had to speak with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on the matter, he sought time till tomorrow.

CJP Isa then inquired from the counsels of the bar councils and associations how long they would take to present their arguments.

The top judge said that first, counsels representing lawyer organisations would be heard and then those who are pleading on behalf of individuals.

Upon Justice Isa’s directive, the AGP then read aloud the short order from the last hearing. “As highlighted by all the high courts, this is the most serious and grave matter undermining the independence of the judiciary, which cannot be trivialised,” he quoted the order as saying.

The CJP then summoned the Pakistan Bar Council’s (PBC) lawyer to the rostrum, noting that its members had submitted separate responses and could “not come on a single page even for the judiciary’s independence”.

Justice Minallah asked the counsel if it would not have been better to summon a meeting and agree on a unanimous response. “Whatever their opinion was, it is equally important,” he added.

Reading out an excerpt of the IHC judges’ letter pertaining to the SJC, the PBC lawyer said that the “segment may be referred to the SJC in order to provide guidance and some appropriate amendments may be made to the code of conduct for judges regarding their interactions with the executive in such circumstances”.

The PBC lawyer suggested the formation of a judicial commission comprising of one or more sitting judges to probe the matter to “thoroughly investigate the allegations and fix responsibility”.

At one point, Justice Minallah observed, “One of the high courts has gone to the extent of saying that it’s a phenomenon which amounts to the subversion of the Constitution. The PBC has probably not formulated its recommendations while considering those reports. “Speaking for myself, it is not just the six judges’ letter; they have highlighted a formula which has existed,” he added, asking what deterrence can be created when the Faizabad sit-in judgment had also failed to do so.

Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Shahzad Shaukat stated that the remarks made in the last hearing pertaining to “superior court judges being compromised” were “eroding public trust”.

To this, Justice Minallah said, “We have lied for 76 years, hidden the truth, which has absolutely eroded our credibility.”

“The truth should come from somewhere else. After sitting here, you’re actually accepting that you were complicit,” the SCBA president said, at which Justice Minallah remarked, “It is not I who said it, it is the attorney general who said it.”

Shaukat said it was “deeply concerning” that an April 29 judgment penned by Justice Babar Sattar stated that the IHC judges’ letter was “not in the nature of a complaint, it was a confidential intra-institutional correspondence that got leaked to the media and has attracted public debate”.

“Urgent inquiry is necessary to determine how the letter was publicised without first being addressed to the chairman and the members of the SJC. The individual responsible for its leakage must be identified and held accountable,” the SCBA president asserted.

“The SCBA urges the SC to reassert its constitutional authority and to ensure that mechanisms are in place to prevent any form of coercion or undue interference from state agencies,” Shaukat added.

He further said that the SCBA advocated for a “network of stricter law” which should be “designed to protect judges from pressure that can arise from other branches of the government or from within their own ranks”.

Shaukat said, “It is crucial for a strong message to be sent to the Parliament and the executive institutions that no interference will be tolerated henceforth.” He called for an inquiry to “determine what exactly transpired” and why the IHC judges “failed to act” under Article 204 of the Constitution to take contempt action.

The lawyer went on to state, “Any kind of trolling of any honourable judge for maintaining any opinion he has independently cannot be permitted.

Justice Minallah observed, “Judges have to rise above these things. No criticism, no matter how vicious, can affect the judge or the judge’s integrity or credibility.”

Terming the events of Nov 3, 2007, as the “biggest contempt of court”, he said the SC back then failed to initiate contempt proceedings despite its order being violated and judges being detained. “How can you expect a district judge to speak up against interference?” Justice Minallah asked.

Justice Mandokhail noted that there should be fair criticism on social media but people should not be misled.

CJP Isa then said: “There is a big difference between criticism and lies. There was a commissioner here, and he spoke lies, and the media ran those lies,” the top judge said, noting that in people abroad even went bankrupt over defamation cases.

“Just start telling the truth, forget about the punishment,” Justice Isa said.

Justice Isa said the judges who face martial law and dictators “should be appreciated”, adding, “The judges who did not take oath under Provisional Constitutional Order and left are heroes.”

The court adjourned the hearing of the suo motu case indefinitely.

 

Reporter: Amanat Gishkori

 

 


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