Categories: National

The limbo called Supreme Judicial Council

  • Since its reactivation in November 2015, council is yet to decide a single reference

The Supreme Judicial Council of Pakistan—after its activation back in November 2015 by then chief justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali—as of yet hasn’t decided upon even a single reference against as many as four justices, who hail from various high courts.

Due to the in-camera nature of hearings, since it is a trial of a peer by fellow peers, the actual goings on of the Supreme Judicial Council remain hidden from the media gaze. However, few references did create ripples like one filed against Chief Justice Muhammad Anwar Khan Kasi by Islamabad High Court Bar Association.

In October 2016, the Islamabad High Court Bar Association filed a reference against Chief Justice Kasi under Article 209 of Constitution of Pakistan when 74 different appointments and recruitments made by IHC were declared null and void. The lawyers’ community demanded that CJ Kasi should resign, as his involvement in illegal postings and appointments have come to the fore. Another judge Justice Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman resigned from the post.

Despite scheduled hearings every month, the references are still pending and no future resolve is in sight.

According to sources, as of March 2017, four references are being heard by Supreme Judicial Council, which include references against Chief Justice Muhammad Anwar Khan Kasi and Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddique pertaining to misconduct along with misuse of authority for personal use.

Interestingly, some judges, whose references are pending before SJC, have demanded that their trial be done in an open court. The council, however, has rejected the proposal as it is against the time-tested norms of jurisprudence that call for in-camera hearing of a trial of a peer by his fellow peers.

Another judge from LHC Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, when summoned to appear before Supreme Judicial Council, filed a petition under Article 184 (3) last year. In his petition, he brought into question the rules of SJC, labelling them against the ‘spirit of Constitution’. Even after the lapse of almost a year, Justice Naqvi continues to perform his duties, and due to in-camera proceedings of SJC, little is known about the progress made.

Only last week Justice Asia Saeed Khosa had refused himself from the SC’s proceedings against Justice Mazahir. The fate of another reference against LHC’s Justice Farrukh Irfan—whose name, ironically, is also figured in the Panama Papers—is no different.

Supreme Judicial Council, a constitutional body entrusted to hear references of misconduct against serving judges of Supreme Court and high courts, is the only judicial body competent to remove them.

“The rule of the Supreme Judicial Council is to conduct in-camera trials. If there is some exceptional reason, then they opt otherwise. I don’t know on what grounds a judge can demand to conduct them in open,” said Advocate SM Zafar, a notable constitutional lawyer and senior Jurist. “The reason for conducting these proceedings in-camera is to save the judges from slender and disrepute, as open proceedings can bring a bad name for all parties involved. Those judges against whom the cases are underway can take advantage from the open hearings by giving them popular angles. It is a person’s wish to paint a picture portraying him as innocent and those judging him as biased against him,” he said.

“Supreme Judicial Council is empowered to form its own rules by Constitution. The council had decided to hold its proceedings in-camera. Now, what is the rationale behind it? First, we have to see what the nature of the trial is. The nature of the trial is that SJC conducts a trial of a peer by the peers. The judge in the case is not on trial and no punishment is to be given to him,” said Justice (retd) Naseem Sikandar, a corporate lawyer and former judge Lahore High Court.

Sikander added that traditions handed down to us from time immemorial can’t be brushed aside by exigencies of the present. “They have to amend the rules. It is not the choice of the accused judge to opt for open or in-camera trial. The younger generation is not aware of the implications of the open trial involved in this case. If a judge comes clean out of the Supreme Judicial Council, the proceedings he came out clean from will keep on haunting him for the rest of his career,” he concluded.

Shah Nawaz Mohal

The writer is a law graduate and journalist based in Islamabad. He can be reached at mshahnawazmohal@gmail.com.

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