ISLAMABAD: Against the backdrop of reports regarding institution of references against superior court judges, a sitting judge of the Supreme Court on Wednesday approached President Dr Arif Alvi, complaining that selective leaks to the media amount to his character assassination, thus jeopardising right to due process and fair trial.
An informed source told Dawn that in his letter to the president, Justice Qazi Faez Isa also said he would be obliged if the former could let him know if it was correct that a reference had been filed against him under Article 209 of the Constitution in the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).
“I am confident that you (president) will agree that if a reference has been filed and I have been called upon to submit my reply thereto, only then, subject to the permission of the Supreme Judicial Council, the government may disclose the reference and my response thereto,” the SC judge stated in the letter.
Legal observers believe that the current campaign against Justice Isa was launched after he authored a strongly worded judgement on Feb 6 in a case relating to the Nov 2017 Faizabad sit-in by the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, directing the defence ministry and chiefs of the army, navy and air force to penalise the personnel under their command found to have violated their oath.
Justice Qazi Isa, who is in line to become the chief justice of Pakistan, has also requested the president to provide him a copy of the reference if filed against him. “Selective leaks amount to character assassination, jeopardise my right to due process and fair trial and undermine the institution of the judiciary,” he stated.
Justice Qazi Isa says selective leaks to media amount to his character assassination; AAG Zahid Ebrahim resigns in the wake of reference
Copies of the letter have also been dispatched to Prime Minister Imran Khan as well as the Supreme Court registrar who also acts as SJC secretary.
Media reports suggest that a number of references have been filed in the SJC under Article 209 of the Constitution against a Supreme Court judge and a judge of the Sindh High Court and another of the Lahore High Court on the pretext of undeclared foreign assets, as well as a retired superior court judge.
The other highlight of the day was the resignation of Additional Attorney General Zahid F. Ebrahim, a son of the former chief election commissioner Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim. He left the coveted office by stating that in his opinion the attempt (to file reference) was not about accountability of judges but a reckless attempt to tarnish the reputation of independent individuals and browbeat the judiciary.
“Unless resisted, it will cause irreparable damage to the institution which is the protector of our fundamental rights and the bedrock of our fledgling democracy,” Zahid Ebrahim said in a separate letter to the president while tendering his resignation at the same time.
“I cannot in good conscience continue in office and therefore hereby tender my resignation as the Additional Attorney General (AAG) with immediate effect,” he said in the one-page resignation letter.
The letter, copies of which have also been sent to the secretaries of the Ministry of Law and the Attorney General Office, also stated that one of the purported references was against a senior judge of the Supreme Court, who was widely recognised for his unimpeachable integrity and against whom the government had already revealed its mind in the much-publicised review petitions filed last month.
Zahid Ebrahim wrote that he was appointed AAG in November last year and it had been an honour to serve as the senior most law officer of the federation of Pakistan in the province of Sindh and lead a team of able and competent deputy and assistant attorney generals.
Talking to Dawn, Syed Amjad Shah, vice chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) — a supervisory body that regulates the affairs of the legal fraternity — said that in his view such a move should be resisted, but hastened to add that the council would develop a proper strategy after the content of the reference was made known.
He said the government had every right to file references against incompetent judges who had committed flagrant violations of their oath of office and code of conduct for the judges as there were many, but Justice Isa was being discriminated against. “By targeting Justice Isa, the government will weaken its case against other judges against whom references should have been filed,” he said.
The PBC vice chairman recalled how through a recent resolution, a representative body of lawyers in Sindh had expressed disagreement over the federal government’s review petition against the sit-in verdict.
He also recalled how the PBC had on April 22 rejected a demand by the Punjab Bar Council (PbBC) for immediate removal of Justice Isa, and described the resolution as uncalled for and unnecessary that transgressed the independence of judiciary. The PBC had described Justice Isa as an upright and competent judge of the apex court who always discharged judicial functions without any fear and favour.
PBC’s senior member Raheel Kamran Sheikh said the partial release of recent information about filing of references had raised many eyebrows and given rise to unwarranted surmises and conjectures about the affairs of some judges serving in the superior judiciary.
“This is not only detrimental to their reputation but also carries with it the potential to adversely affect their performance, besides engendering insecurity in the judicial organ,” he said, adding that Justice Isa’s demand from the president was absolutely justified.
He said the bar was legitimately concerned and would resist any conceivable attack on the independence of the judiciary from any quarter.
Correction: An earlier version of the story inaccurately referred to the former chief election commissioner Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim as "the late". The error is regretted.
Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2019