‘Attack of any kind’ on judiciary’s independence won’t be tolerated: CJP

  • Hints at possibility of convening a full court for hearing suo motu case on daily basis
  • AGP appears before court along with Hamid Khan, who represented Imran and Ahmed Hussain appears as Aitzaz’s lawyer

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa on Wednesday declared that an “attack of any kind” on the judiciary’s independence would not be tolerated.

Supreme Court CJP Qazi Faez Isa observed while heading a seven-member bench hearing a suo motu case about allegations made by six Islamabad High Court (IHC) judges regarding interference by the country’s security apparatus in the judicial affairs

A seven-member bench — comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa and justices – Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Yahya Afridi, Jamal Khan Mandokhail, Athar Minallah, Musarrat Hilali and Naeem Akhtar Afghan — is presiding over the hearing. The proceedings are being live-streamed on the SC’s website and its YouTube channel.

During hearing, Attorney General for Pakistan Mansoor Usman Awan appeared before the SC along with Hamid Khan, who represented former premier Imran Khan while Ahmed Hussain appeared as Aitzaz’s lawyer.

The CJP emphasized that any encroachments on judicial autonomy would be firmly resisted, indicating the possibility of convening a full court for a suo motu case on alleged intrusions into judicial proceedings.

Justice Isa added that only seven judges were available in Islamabad today, the rest are either in Lahore or Karachi. “We may have a full court on the next hearing”, he said while concluding the hearing.

The CJP adjourned the proceedings till April 29.

At the outset of the hearing, Hamid informed the court that he had requested to be made a respondent in the case. At this, CJP Isa remarked, “Gone are the days when it was the chief justice’s will. We have constituted a committee to fix cases [for hearing].”

He noted that the court had not received Hamid’s petition, adding that the committee would decide on the matter once the plea was received.

The CJP further said it was “inappropriate” that petitions were reported in the media before they were even filed.

“When we talk about pressure being exerted, is this also exerting pressure on us in a way?” he wondered, adding that he never gave in to anyone’s pressure.

Last week, it emerged that six Islamabad High Court (IHC) judges — out of a total strength of eight — wrote a startling letter to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) members, regarding attempts to pressure judges through the 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.

A day later, calls emerged from various quarters for a probe into the investigation, amid which CJP Isa summoned a full court meeting of the SC judges.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif met CJP Isa, where the two decided to form an inquiry commission, which was later approved by the federal cabinet.

However, lawyers and civil society members — in a joint letter — had 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”.

On Monday, ex-CJP Tassaduq Hussain Jillani — tasked to head the one-man inquiry commission — recused himself from the role, urging Justice Isa to “resolve the issues raised in the letter at the institutional level”. At the same time, the top court took suo motu notice of the matter and constituted a seven-member bench to hear the case.

A day ago, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan and the Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA) filed separate but similar petitions to join the suo motu proceedings.

The hearing

The top judge also expressed his displeasure at lawyers calling for a suo motu notice: “The lawyers are saying to take a suo motu [notice]; then they should leave their practice.”

Justice Isa said that Hamid could not be considered a “representative of lawyers” as the president of a bar association was already present for that role.

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.

Justice Isa recalled that he met the IHC judges the day he received their letter. “If we had not given importance to this matter, then could this meeting not be held after Ramazan?” he asked.

At one point during the hearing, the CJP said, “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.

Contents of letter by IHC judges

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

It mentioned seven instances of alleged interference and intimidation “to influence the outcome of cases of interest” by the intelligence officials, pointing out that when two out of three judges in the bench hearing the plea to disqualify PTI leader Imran Khan for concealing his alleged daughter opined that the case was not maintainable, they were pressured by “operatives of the ISI” through friends and relatives.

The situation got so stressful that one of the judges had to be admitted to hospital due to high blood pressure, the letter said.

According to the six judges, the matter was brought to the notice of the IHC chief justice and the then-CJP. The former informed the judges that he had “spoken to the DG-C of ISI and had been assured that no official from ISI will approach the judges of the IHC”.

The letter complained that “interference on the part of intelligence operatives” continued even after IHC CJ’s assurance.

It also referred to the abduction of an IHC judge’s brother-in-law by armed men who claimed to be ISI operatives. The victim was “administered electric shocks” and “forced to record a video” making false allegations, apparently against the judge.

“Subsequently, a complaint was filed against the judge of IHC before the SJC, accompanied by an orchestrated media campaign to bring pressure to bear upon the judge to resign.”

The letter revealed that in May 2023, an IHC inspection judge reported to the chief justice that district court judges were being intimidated and crackers were thrown into the house of one additional district and sessions judge.

The judge was even called to the IHC to verify the claims which he confirmed. But instead of probing the allegations, the judge “was made officer on special duty and transferred to IHC, before being sent back to Punjab as he was a judicial officer on deputation”.

The letter said that last year, during routine maintenance, an IHC judge found that his official residence had been bugged with spy cameras concealed in his drawing room and bedroom.

When data from surve­illance equipment was rec­overed, it showed that “pr­i­vate videos of the judge and his family members” were stored. “The matter was brought to the attention of the IHC chief justice. There has been no determination of who installed the equipment and who is to be held accountable,” the letter added.

Along with their letter to the SJC, the six judges also attached copies of letters written to Justice Farooq on May 10, 2023 and Feb 12, 2024.

The letters mentioned, among other complaints, efforts of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) personnel to pressurise IHC judges and probe into the tax records of at least one judge “to seek a certain outcome”.

They added that it was imperative to determine whether there was a “policy on the part of the executive … implemented by intelligence operatives” to intimidate judges.

“[The] allegations of interference by operatives of ISI have been dealt with and relief has been granted to a former judge of IHC who was wronged. We believe that while such action was necessary, it may not be sufficient,” the letter said about Justice Siddiqui’s case.

The judges noted that the SJC’s code of conduct for judges did not outline the response to such incidents “that are tantamount to intimidation and interfere with judicial independence”.

They called for a judicial convention to discuss the interference of intelligence officials “that undermines independence of the judiciary”.

The consultation would help the Supreme Court to determine a course of action that judges could take “when they find themselves at the receiving end”, the letter said.

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