ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court is expected to commence from Wednesday the hearing of a petition filed by a sitting judge of the Islamabad High Court (IHC), who has sought an open trial of a reference pending against him before the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).

A three-judge bench comprising Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah will take up the petition filed by Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, who has been accused of professional misconduct.

A similar request to order an open trial rather than conducting SJC proceedings in private was raised before the council on May 18, but was overturned. The petitioner had argued that Article 10A of the Constitution protected the right to a fair trial and due process.

Judge argues that holding in-camera proceedings would only damage the image of institutions

The SJC had issued Justice Siddiqui a show-cause notice on Feb 15, and on Oct 10, decided to record evidence against the judge in the first week of November.

The complaint alleging professional misconduct was initially moved by a retired employee of the Capital Development Authority (CDA), who had raised issue over the refurbishment of the senior judge’s official residence beyond entitlement.

In his petition before the Supreme Court, Justice Aziz said he had the fundamental right to insist that an inquiry into his conduct be held publicly. The petitioning judge had requested the apex court to suspend the proceedings of the council his petition was pending.

In his petition, Justice Aziz has questioned paragraph 13 of the Supreme Judicial Council Procedure of Inquiry 2005, which deals with in-camera proceedings, and argued that the section violated Articles 4, 10A, 18 and 25 of the Constitution because it did not allow a trial before council to take place in accordance with the law, and was thus detrimental to liberty of the person facing trial.

The petition argued that the SJC had erred by observing that it was on account of the sanctity of the institution and the dignity of the applicant and other judges, whose matters were inquired into by the council, that in-camera proceedings were expedient.

“It is in the larger interests of the judiciary that proceedings are not conducted in open courts as the issues brought before the SJC and the allegations levelled may ultimately be proved to be false, frivolous and vexatious,” the council had held in its order. But the Justice Aziz argued that the sanctity of an institution could not be protected by cloistering it.

There was no greater protection than free speech and a free press for the independence of constitutional institutions, the petition argued.

It added that the petitioner did not have anything to hide, and that his dignity was not compromised if the proceedings were held in the open, the petition said, adding that it was not in the interest of the judiciary if proceedings of the council were held in-camera because it would damage the image of the institutions. “The very guardians of justice cannot deny their brethren the protection of a public hearing due process,” the petition stressed.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2017



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