DAYS before the Supreme Judicial Council is due to take up references filed by the government against Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court and Justice Karim Khan Agha of the Sindh High Court, the Pakistan Bar Council has announced the formation of committees which its vice chairman, Amjad Shah, says will identify “inefficient and corrupt judges”. The special committees will purportedly collect evidence to form the basis of references against them and committee members will even review judgements. Mr Shah has declared that the council will prepare and submit references against judges to the president and the SJC for further action. He also said the names of the judges in question would not be disclosed till the filing of the references against them and that “no one would be allowed to engage in their character assassination”.
Although the PBC may be justified in questioning the lack of transparency in the references against Justices Isa and Agha, its latest salvo is reactionary — and dangerous. The decision to form committees to investigate senior judges and their judgements stands in contradiction to its pledge to shield the judiciary from controversy. Not only is it illogical to target judges en masse as a response to the targeting of two judges, it also runs the risk of causing an institutional clash such as the one that triggered the lawyers movement in 2007 — a situation which may drive a wedge between the people and the state. Former chief justice Saqib Nisar’s recent judicial activism and his interference in matters of governance had yet again made the judiciary vulnerable to criticism, despite years of restraint after chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry retired. The lack of clarity behind the recent references against two senior judges, too, has cast a shadow over the reputation of honourable judges. The PBC has every right to protest and debate the filing of the references and their timing, but it must be aware that there is already a system in place which examines allegations of misconduct against sitting judges. Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa, too, has inspired confidence through his statement that people should trust the judges, and that the judiciary will provide justice when hearing the matter against justices Isa and Agha. Instead of moving against other judges in what appears to be a reactive campaign, it would be prudent for the legal fraternity to confine its protest to the issue of the present references.
Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2019