A DANGEROUS — and increasingly familiar — storyline about the integrity of the justice system is unfolding, laying bare the growing threat to judicial independence and transparency in the country. A six-member executive committee of the Punjab Bar Council has drafted a resolution demanding the removal of Justice Qazi Faez Isa, who it believes “ridiculed the armed forces instead of appreciating them” in his recent verdict on the Faizabad dharna. It has also lauded the removal of justice Shaukat Siddiqui by the Supreme Judicial Council, stating that he “transgressed limits”. The PbBC statement was in response to the Karachi Bar Association’s move to file a petition in the apex court, in which it has asked that an inquiry be conducted into Mr Siddiqui’s allegations regarding the interference of intelligence agencies in judicial matters.
Although the Punjab council executive committee that authored this resolution is a smaller group which may not represent the full council, the implications of its actions betray the politics in our judicial system and the increasing vulnerability of the latter to external influence. While there also seems to be a strong element of inter-association rivalry between the PbBC and the KBA — which is supported by other lawyers’ bodies in Sindh — the bigger picture of silencing dissent and criticism of the alleged role of the security agencies is troubling. In his role as a high court judge, Mr Siddiqui had established himself as a religious bigot furthering a hateful ideology. He was removed by the Supreme Judicial Council — not for being a polarising figure, but, apparently, for his hard stance on the intelligence agencies. Similarly, Justice Faez Isa, who in the Faizabad judgement directed intelligence agencies to operate within their mandate, is now being criticised — in addition to the PbBC resolution, there are eight petitions in the apex court asking for a review of the Faizabad verdict. In this environment, the Sindh lawyers’ condemnation of the resolution is welcome. The KBA has rightly termed it malicious and turned the spotlight back on the allegations of Mr Siddiqui against intelligence agencies. It is no secret that the intelligence agencies have interfered in political matters; former spymasters have admitted as much as evident from the Asghar Khan case. In the interest of democracy, there is a legitimate basis for greater investigation — and redress — of such allegations by the judiciary. The Supreme Court would do well to handle the issue and thus prevent lawyers from maligning an honourable judge.
Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2019