Mystery surrounds SJC hearing of references against judges

Updated June 15, 2019

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QUETTA: (Clockwise) This Online photo (top) shows lawyers holding a demonstration on the premises of the Balochistan High Court on Friday. In Islamabad, a group of lawyers chant slogans (bottom-right) outside the Supreme Court building during the hearing of the references against two superior court judges by the Supreme Judicial Council and SCBA president Amanullah Kanrani, along with other lawyers (bottom-left), burns papers to depict as if a copy of the references is being set on fire.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
QUETTA: (Clockwise) This Online photo (top) shows lawyers holding a demonstration on the premises of the Balochistan High Court on Friday. In Islamabad, a group of lawyers chant slogans (bottom-right) outside the Supreme Court building during the hearing of the references against two superior court judges by the Supreme Judicial Council and SCBA president Amanullah Kanrani, along with other lawyers (bottom-left), burns papers to depict as if a copy of the references is being set on fire.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

ISLAMABAD: Mystery surrounds the proceedings of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) which held a closed-door session on Friday to commence a preliminary hearing of government-sponsored references against two superior court judges as no official handout was released about the proceedings. At the conclusion of the SJC session, despite facing a volley of questions by chasing journalists, Attorney General Anwar Mansoor remained tight-lipped and did not offer any comment. But to many, his body language indicated that everything had not gone off well during the proceedings.

The five-member SJC — comprising Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court Ahmed Ali M. Shaikh and Chief Justice of the Peshawar High Court Waqar Ahmed Seth — held the proceedings from 2pm to 3.30pm. AG Mansoor appeared as the prosecutor to advance his arguments in favour of the references.

The references have been filed against Supreme Court judge Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice K.K. Agha of the Sindh High Court on charges of owning properties in London.

No official announcement made about closed-door session of the council held amid lawyers’ protest

Outside, rumours of all sorts were doing the rounds with some speculating that the references had been quashed and others confidently opining that the session of the constitutional body had remained inconclusive since the council might further examine the maintainability of the references. Some said that the SJC had reserved its ruling on the fate of the references whereas others believed that notices had been issued to the accused judges asking them to furnish their replies. Consideration on the part of the government to withdraw the references was also part of the whispering campaign.

In the evening the AG even had to take a long walk to leave the Supreme Court premises towards the judges parking where his car was parked to avoid the lawyers waiting at the entrance of the top court.

QUETTA: (Clockwise) This Online photo (top) shows lawyers holding a demonstration on the premises of the Balochistan High Court on Friday. In Islamabad, a group of lawyers chant slogans (bottom-right) outside the Supreme Court building during the hearing of the references against two superior court judges by the Supreme Judicial Council and SCBA president Amanullah Kanrani, along with other lawyers (bottom-left), burns papers to depict as if a copy of the references is being set on fire.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
QUETTA: (Clockwise) This Online photo (top) shows lawyers holding a demonstration on the premises of the Balochistan High Court on Friday. In Islamabad, a group of lawyers chant slogans (bottom-right) outside the Supreme Court building during the hearing of the references against two superior court judges by the Supreme Judicial Council and SCBA president Amanullah Kanrani, along with other lawyers (bottom-left), burns papers to depict as if a copy of the references is being set on fire.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

Lawyers’ protest

The lawyers’ leaders, who put up quite an impressive show by sitting outside and inside the Supreme Court entrance hall, were clueless about the outcome of the SJC session. This was the reason why Vice Chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) Syed Amjad Shah and two bitter rivals standing side by side — Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president Amanullah Kanrani and former SCBA president Ali Ahmed Kurd — Hamid Khan, a known Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader, and Rasheed A. Razvi announced that they would chalk out future strategy of the lawyers’ movement after learning what the SJC had really decided.

But before closing Friday’s protest meeting, they thanked all lawyers’ bodies which had staged similar demonstrations in their respective bars throughout the country as well as civil society representatives and a delegation of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalist, including Afzal Butt and Nasir Zaidi, who had come to participate in the protest as a mark of solidarity.

Mr Kanrani, who in the morning burnt papers to depict as if he had alighted a copy of the references, appreciated that leaders of all lawyers’ groups, including Hamid Khan-led Professional Group and Independent Group previously known as Asma Jahangir group, had joined hands to express solidarity with the superior court judges facing references and to uphold rule of law and the constitution and independence of the judiciary.

“Today we have gathered here to free the judiciary of the shackles of the executive,” Mr Kanrani said, asking the SJC to make public orders of all concluded references against judges and proceedings of pending references.

Earlier in the morning, Ali Ahmed Kurd — one of the lawyers’ leaders who had spearheaded the epic 2007 lawyers’ movement — was accorded a rousing welcome when he entered the apex court premises with lawyers taking him to the rostrum installed for the press talk on their shoulders.

Talking to the media, Mr Kurd said that if any one believed that they could defeat the lawyers by breaking their unity, they lived in a fool’s paradise because the lawyers believed in the true meaning of democracy.

He alleged that the references against the judges had been instituted by the government with mala fide intentions and said, “We want to give a loud and clear message to all that the lawyers’ fraternity has gathered outside the Supreme Court only to discourage the tendency of filing references against independent judges.

“A judge should be free of all pressures and considerations while deciding cases,” he said, adding that it was the lawyers’ duty to protect competent and independent judges.

Mr Kurd also warned what he called a small section of lawyers who at the behest of the powers that be were trying to create a wedge among the lawyers that failure was their fate.

The highlight of the day was the media talk of Senator Raza Rabbani who said that he had come to attend the lawyers’ protest as a practising lawyer and not as a leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party only to express his solidarity.

The situation arising out of the filing of the reference could not be seen in isolation as today the entire country was being pushed to fulfil the agenda of former President Pervez Musharraf, he said.

The government had filed the references with an intention to browbeat not only the judiciary, but all the dissenting voices in the country, including civil society and the media, he said.

“This is an assault against the judiciary,” Senator Rabbani said and expressed the confidence that the SJC would move without succumbing to any pressure.

QUETTA: (Clockwise) This Online photo (top) shows lawyers holding a demonstration on the premises of the Balochistan High Court on Friday. In Islamabad, a group of lawyers chant slogans (bottom-right) outside the Supreme Court building during the hearing of the references against two superior court judges by the Supreme Judicial Council and SCBA president Amanullah Kanrani, along with other lawyers (bottom-left), burns papers to depict as if a copy of the references is being set on fire.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
QUETTA: (Clockwise) This Online photo (top) shows lawyers holding a demonstration on the premises of the Balochistan High Court on Friday. In Islamabad, a group of lawyers chant slogans (bottom-right) outside the Supreme Court building during the hearing of the references against two superior court judges by the Supreme Judicial Council and SCBA president Amanullah Kanrani, along with other lawyers (bottom-left), burns papers to depict as if a copy of the references is being set on fire.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

All during the day, the lawyers remained peaceful, sitting on the chairs, though they occasionally raised slogans in favour of the judiciary and the judges facing the references and against the government for filing references.

Meanwhile a group of dissenting lawyers, popularly known as the Lawyers Action Committee, also held a press conference not very far from the Supreme Court building to claim that lawyers’ bodies had demonstrated their indifference to the PBC’s call for staging demonstrations.

The press conference was addressed by coordination secretary of the action committee Haroon Irshad Janjua who alleged that the lawyers who participated in the protest belonged to different political parties and had gathered to advance the agenda of their parties.

Such lawyers were bent on making the SJC, a constitutional body, controversial, he said, adding that that the council should proceed against the superior court judges without any fear and favour strictly in accordance with the law.

Meanwhile, lawyers boycotted court proceedings and held demonstrations across the country to protest against the SJC proceedings on references against Justice Isa Justice Agha. However, the boycott remained partial in Punjab and at the Sindh High Court.

Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2019