Lawyers defiant as SJC takes up references against judges today

Updated June 14, 2019

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The five-member SJC will commence hearing of the references at 2pm against Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court and Jus­tice Karim Khan Agha of the SHC for allegedly possessing properties in the United Kingdom. — Photo courtesy Supreme Court website/File
The five-member SJC will commence hearing of the references at 2pm against Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court and Jus­tice Karim Khan Agha of the SHC for allegedly possessing properties in the United Kingdom. — Photo courtesy Supreme Court website/File

• Another reference filed against Justice Isa
• Pakistan Bar Council gives call for countrywide protest
• CJP, two provincial chief justices among SJC members

ISLAMABAD/Karachi: As all eyes are on the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) which will take up on Friday (today) the references against two superior court judges, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president Aman­ullah Kanrarni renewed his commitment to burn copies of the references outside the Supreme Court and lawyers, barring a part of the legal fraternity, announced observing strike across the country on the call of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC).

The five-member SJC comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, Sindh High Court Chief Justice Ahmed Ali M. Shaikh and Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Waqar Ahmed Seth will commence hearing of the references at 2pm against Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court and Jus­tice Karim Khan Agha of the SHC for allegedly possessing properties in the United Kingdom.

Attorney General Anwar Mansoor, who had received a notice from the SJC to appear as a prosecutor, will try to convince the council to begin formal proceedings in the matter. If the council is convinced by his arguments, it will issue notices to the judges, asking them to furnish replies to the allegations levelled against them, or it may decide to drop the proceedings.

It may be recalled that the Karachi Bar Association has already cancelled the membership of Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan and Law Minister Barrister Farogh Naseem.

Read: Reference against judges

Like different lawyer bodies, senior government functionaries also decided at a meeting to watch the entire proceedings of the council from a distance and not to interfere in any manner rather accept whatever decision the SJC takes about the fate of the two judges.

While renewing his pledge to protest, but in a peaceful manner, against the SJC proceedings on the premises of the Supreme Court building, SCBA president Kanrani told the media that the council was a subordinate institution to the apex court which had on July 20, 2007, thrown out a reference instituted by then military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf against former chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry on misconduct.

A 13-judge SC bench by a majority of 10 to three had held the reference illegal filed with mala fide intention. Therefore, Mr Kanrani said, the SJC did not need to examine the current references rather drop the proceedings in line with the SC majority verdict.

He said, “we will offer thanksgiving pray­ers on Friday in case of good news”. He said lawyers would hold a countrywide protest on the call of the PBC and not appear in courts. Mr Kanrani rejected a perception that there was a division among the lawyers, saying that every individual had an independent mind and thinking and a joint strategy would be decided after the SJC proceedings.

His secretary Azmatullah Chaudhry believed that no protest should be held on the SC premises and lawyers should be allowed to participate in the proceedings, though provincial bar councils and associations could observe protest at their respective places. He was of the view that lawyers should have confidence in the SJC which should be allowed to complete its constitutional task without any fear or pressure.

Former SCBA president Ali Ahmed Kurd termed the SJC a weak body, subordinate to the apex court. About the cancellation of membership of Law Minister Farogh Naseem by the PBC, he said that morally the minister had left with nothing since the highest body of lawyers had thrown him out of their fold. He wondered why the SJC instantly initiated the references against the two judges when it was seized with around 300 references.

Senior counsel Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan also decided not to attend the court proceedings on Friday to honour the PBC call. He said the leadership of lawyers was in safe hands and they were doing fine to protest against the filing of the references.

Private reference

Meanwhile, a private reference against Justice Isa was filed in the SJC by Advocate Waheed Shahzad Butt under Article 209 of the Constitution for allegedly violating the code of conduct for judges by writing two letters to President Dr Arif Alvi. The reference pleaded that the judge had committed a gross misconduct by writing the letters and then allegedly sharing it with the media, thus liable to be removed on the recommendations of the SJC.

“By choosing a public forum for voicing his personal and subjective views and opinions, the judge has denounced the judiciary of this country as a whole, targeted the chief executive (prime minister) of the country and used offensive language to criticise the matter,” the reference alleged.

Read: Comment: Scrap reference against Justice Isa

Former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry also entered a caveat before the SJC by asking the council not to entertain rather reject the reference against Justice Isa by holding it against the constitutional provisions and being false, untrue and without substance.

The communication by Justice Chaudhry also asked the SJC to suggest appropriate action against the president and the prime minister as provided under Rule 14 of the Supreme Judicial Council Procedure of Inquiry 2005. He said the prime minister and the president, as per the requirements of their oath under Articles 42 and 91(5) of the Constitution were bound not to communicate or reveal to any person any matter which would be brought under their consideration or become known to them except as may be required for the discharge of their duties.

But in the instant case, before commencement of the proceedings by the SJC on the reference, the contents along with a few documents were made public, due to which the judge as well as the judiciary as a whole had been scandalised.

The caveat stated that the prime minister had not complied with the constitutional provisions as well as the apex court judgement in the 2006 Mustafa Impex case since without discussing and seeking approval of the cabinet, the reference was forwarded to the president. Therefore, the reference was unwarranted and thus not maintainable before the SJC, he stated.

SBC backs strike

The Sindh Bar Council (SBC) said that in solidarity with the PBC and the SCBA, it requested all bar associations of Sindh to observe a complete boycott of courts on Friday in protest against the references filed against Justice Faez Isa Justice K.K. Agha.

In a statement, the SBC said it condemned the mala fide attempts allegedly made by the government to create an impression of division in the legal fraternity by promising posts and benefits to a handful of opportunists and warned that any lawyer working against the independence of the judiciary would face cancelation of licence.

At a joint press conference held on the premises of the City Courts in Karachi, office-bearers of the SCBA, SBC and the Karachi Bar Association unanimously announced that a complete boycott of the legal proceedings would be observed in the superior and subordinate judiciary in the city and the rest of the province on Friday in protest against the filing of references against Justice Isa and Justice K.K. Agha.

They also reiterated their resolve to stand by the honest judges and the PBC in its struggle for the independence of the judiciary. However, they clarified that the legal fraternity had no other agenda except for standing up for the independence of the judiciary.

SCBA vice president Salahuddin Gandapur, former National Judicial Commission member Mehmoodul Hasan, SBC member Ghulam Rasool Soho and Hanif Kashmiri also spoke.

A small group of the lawyers associated with PTI lawyers’ wing denounced the PBC’s call for the protest and boycott of the legal proceedings in Karachi. Interestingly, they protested against their own colleagues and distanced themselves from the legal proceedings’ boycott at the superior and subordinate courts in Karachi on Friday. They also warned against any lockdown of the courts and decided to resist such move.

Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2019