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A Supreme Court bench on Thursday referred to the chief justice a petition filed by a sitting judge of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) seeking the constitution of a larger bench to hear a reference against him. The judge has sought an open trial in the case, which is currently being heard by the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).

A two-judge bench comprising Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Qazi Faez Isa had taken up the petition. It was filed by Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, who has been accused of professional misconduct.

While issuing notices to the federation and the attorney general, the bench referred the matter to Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar for the formation of a larger bench.

The SJC, which tries sitting judges, has always held closed-door proceedings since its establishment in 1962.

The council was established under Article 209 of the Constitution to inquire into allegations leveled against judges of the apex and high courts over misconduct or an inability to perform their duties for reasons of mental or physical incapacity.

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

The complaint against Justice Siddiqui, concerning allegations of 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 Siddiqui said he had the fundamental right to insist that an inquiry into his conduct be held publicly. Justice Siddiqui also requested the apex court to suspend the proceedings of the SJC till his petition is decided.

On Thursday, Justice Saeed observed that the bench could not immediately order the suspension of the proceedings of the council.

The petitioner's (Justice Siddiqui) counsel, M. S. Khattak, argued that the rules of SJC violate the Constitution. He contended that the Constitution does not permit the council to draft laws, but only a code of conduct.

The counsel recalled that an inquiry had been initiated in the past against a judge over allegations of scolding a deputy superintendent of police. When the judge resigned, he said, the media labelled it to be a resignation resulting from corruption.

"The complete truth will come before the public if the trial is held in an open court," he said.

Justice Isa observed that while half-truths are always destructive and dangerous, hearings of the council are held in-camera to protect the judges' conduct.

At this, the lawyer responded that Justice Siddiqui does not desire such protection.

The case will be taken up for a hearing again soon.

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.

Former chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) Anwar Zaheer Jamali had in October last year also dismissed a petition seeking the publicising of the number of references filed against superior court judges. He had ruled that the SJC proceedings were not in the public domain.