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SJC holds brief hearing on references against two judges

Updated July 03, 2019

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Supreme Court Bar Association President Amanullah Kanrani and Pakistan Bar Council vice chairman Syed Amjad Shah speak to reporters outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday. — Tanveer Shahzad/White Star
Supreme Court Bar Association President Amanullah Kanrani and Pakistan Bar Council vice chairman Syed Amjad Shah speak to reporters outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday. — Tanveer Shahzad/White Star

ISLAMABAD: As the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) held a brief hearing on the references against two superior court judges here on Tuesday, lawyers described Justice Qazi Faez Isa as the Nelson Mandela of the judiciary for his struggle for the rights of Balochistan.

“Therefore, the judiciary should exercise extreme caution while dealing with the judge lest it should commit discrimination,” warned Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president Amanullah Kanrani.

The SJC met for a brief period — between 10 and 15 minutes. Attorney General Anwar Mansoor did not appear before the council, unlike the first hearing, as he was not on notice. It is believed that the two judges also did not appear, though they furnished their replies rebutting the allegations levelled against them in the presidential references.

A five-judge SJC consisting of 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 is hearing the references against Justice Faez Isa of the Supreme Court and Justice K.K. Agha of the Sindh High Court for allegedly possessing properties in the United Kingdom.

The SJC after a preliminary hearing on June 14 had decided to share documents with the judges and directed them to volunteer and clarify their position on the allegations levelled in the complaint against them. However, none of the judges had been issued any formal show-cause notice under the Supreme Judicial Council Procedure of Enquiry 2005.

Though the leaders of lawyers and representatives of different bar associations wearing black armbands kept on chanting slogans against the filing of the references and also showed complete unity among them, their number visibly came down from the June 14 protest demonstration. They, however, remained seated inside and outside the Supreme Court building to express solidarity with Justice Isa and Justice Agha.

That was the reason why Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) vice chairman Syed Amjad Shah announced launching an awareness campaign throughout the country to muster support for a full-fledged movement for the sake of the independence of the judiciary. He said a number of conventions would be held in different cities of the country, the first being on July 13 at the Peshawar High Court.

“We have given SJC ample opportunity to decide the fate of the references,” he said, adding that time had come that a forceful movement be launched to prevent attempts to push the country towards darkness.

The PBC also circulated signatures of 54 representatives of different bar associations agreeing on the decision taken at a meeting of the action committee of lawyers of the PBC and SCBA. The PBC said the lawyers’ bodies had taken serious notice of attempts on the part of the government to divide the legal fraternity by luring or harassing the representatives of different bodies of lawyers and vowed to brave such challenges with full force.

On the other hand, the SCBA also constituted a 10-member coordination committee under its president Kanrani as convener to interact with the representative bodies of lawyers across the country to make the proposed movement a success.

Senior counsel Hamid Khan, who yields considerable influence among lawyers and represents the Professional Group, warned that the judiciary would have to pay heavily if any discrimination was committed against Justice Isa, emphasising that the independence of judiciary rested on the independence of lawyers.

Mr Khan later told reporters that there was a possibility that the SJC might ask the two judges to appear before it again on some date to explain in person what justification they had to oppose the contents of the references.

Amjad Shah regretted that despite a demand no information had been disseminated so far about the fate of 400 references the SJC was seized with, adding that it was obligatory under Section 13(2) of the SJC rules to make public the proceedings of the council on different references.

He was also critical of Monday’s proceedings of the judicial commission which had recommended elevation of five individuals as additional judges of the Peshawar High Court despite the fact that the representatives of lawyers’ bodies had expressed concern before the commission about the competence and integrity of the candidates.

“Our representatives had even produced evidence to establish what we were objecting to,” he said, adding that such development had created doubts about the SJC proceedings against the two judges.

Mr Shah was of the opinion that different sections of society, including parliament and civil society, needed independence of the judiciary more than the judiciary itself and, therefore, they should participate in “our movement in large number”.

Amanullah Kanrani said Justice Isa had become a standard of independence in the eyes of the public who perceived him as the most honest and competent judge.

The meeting of the PBC action committee stressed the need for putting more impetus on the lawyers’ movement and said the entire lawyers’ community considered these references as mala fide that had put a question mark on the integrity of the country.

Meanwhile, the lawyers, except a part of the legal fraternity, observed on Tuesday a strike across the country on the call of the PBC to protest the filing of references against the two superior court judges.

The legal proceedings came to a grinding halt in Karachi and other parts of the country as the lawyers stayed away from courts. The courts wore almost a deserted look. The lawyers did not turn up to plead their cases fixed in the courts for the day, leading to adjournment of a large number of the cases.

Published in Dawn, July 3rd , 2019