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The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf to submit before the court a written response to an Islamabad High Court judge's plea for an open trial of a reference pending against him before the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).

Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the IHC had filed the petition seeking an open trial after a complaint alleging professional misconduct was filed against him by a retired employee of the Capital Development Authority (CDA). The CDA employee had raised issue over money spent on the refurbishment of the senior judge’s official residence beyond what he was entitled to.

A five-member bench of the apex court ─ headed by Justice Gulzar Ahmed ─ was conducting a hearing of Justice Siddiqui's petition on Wednesday and ordered AG Ausuf to submit his reply within two weeks.

The bench also appointed Advocate Shahid Hamid and Munir A Malik amicus curiae (friends of the court) for the proceedings.

During the hearing, Justice Ijazul Ahsan observed that the case was one of public interest.

"This is a unique case and will have far-reaching consequences," the judge said.

"We do not want to bury this case; we want to solve this matter," Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed concurred.

"We have to determine the boundaries between an independent judiciary and the accountability of judges," he added.

The hearing of the case was adjourned indefinitely.

In a previous hearing of the case, the apex bench had dismissed Justice Siddiqui's request to suspend to SJC's proceedings against him until the court decides upon his plea for a public trial.

However, later in the day, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar stayed the proceedings of the SJC in view of the pending proceedings in the apex court.

Justice Siddiqui's petition

Justice Siddiqui's petition has questioned paragraph 13 of the SJC Procedure of Inquiry, 2005, which deals with in-camera proceedings, and argued that the section is in violation of Articles 4, 10A, 18 and 25 of the Constitution because it does not allow trial before the council to take place in accordance with the law and is detrimental to the life and liberty of the one facing trial.

The petition has 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 the proceedings are not conducted in open court as the issues brought before SJC and the allegations levelled may ultimately be proved to be false, frivolous and vexatious,” the council had held in its order.

But the petitioner judge had argued that the sanctity of no institution can be protected by making it a cloistered virtue.

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

Moreover, the petitioner has nothing to hide and his dignity is not compromised if the proceedings are held in the open, the petition said, adding that it was not in the interest of the judiciary if the 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 emphasised.