Senate panel wants process for judges’ accountability altered

Updated 25 Sep 2020

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Senator Mohammad Ali Saif said that the existing system was redundant as the judges tried to politicise the reference filed against them. — APP/File
Senator Mohammad Ali Saif said that the existing system was redundant as the judges tried to politicise the reference filed against them. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary panel has termed the existing mode of accountability of judges of superior courts dormant and stressed the need for evolving a transparent and effective mechanism to hold them accountable over the allegations of misconduct.

Speaking at a meeting of the Senate Special Committee on Law Reforms on Thursday, its chairman Farooq H. Naek said that under Article 209 of the Constitution, the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) took up complaints against judges of superior courts. However, he observed that there was no hard and fast rule and set procedure to entertain and dispose of the complaints.

Senator Mohammad Ali Saif said that the existing system was redundant as the judges tried to politicise the reference filed against them.

He suggested changes in the composition of the SJC and proposed that parliamentarians might also be made part of the council.

Raja Inam Ameen Minhas, a seasoned lawyer who attended the meeting as an expert, said that since the proceedings of the SJC have also been challenged before the apex court, there was a need to amend the relevant provisions of the law in this regard.

Seeks views of former CJP, senior lawyers on the issue

Senator Javed Abbasi said that instead of including parliamentarians in the SJC, there should be a parliamentary committee to examine complaints against judges of the superior courts. Moreover, he said, SJC reports should be tabled before the parliamentary committee first before their submission to the president.

Senator Anwarul Haq Kakar also endorsed parliamentary oversight of the SJC proceedings.

The committee decided to seek views from the Ministry of Law and Justice and other stakeholders on the possibility of an amendment to the Constitution to change the existing mechanism for accountability of judges of the superior courts and introduce a more open and effective system that involves parliament, in the light of best international practices.

Senator Naek invited the stakeholders for an open discussion on these proposals. The committee invited former chief justice of Pakistan Nasirul Mulk, Pakistan Bar Council vice chairman Abid Saqi and Supreme Court Bar Association president Syed Qalb-i-Hassan to its meeting scheduled for next week.

The senators present during the meeting gave their point of view on the issue and finally agreed to adopt a mechanism for consultations with all stakeholders to make solid recommendations.

They underscored the need for benefiting from the international best practices and agreed that there was a need to strengthen the check and balance mechanisms in the light of Articles 175(A) and 209 of the Constitution.

The participants of the meeting included senators Rana Maqbool Ahmed and Anwarul Haq Kakar and senior officials of the Ministry of Law and Justice.

In 2015, the then chief justice of Pakistan Anwar Zaheer Jamali had disclosed that around 90 per cent of the complaints filed against judges of the superior judiciary had become outdated because the SJC was dormant.

He said the complaints filed against the conduct of judges of the superior courts had become infructuous since most of those judges had retired after completing their terms in office.

Under Article 209, the SJC may initiate proceedings on a reference against any judge on account of misconduct.

According to Article 209, after proceedings, the SJC “reports to the president that it is of the opinion that the judge is incapable of performing the duties of his office or has been guilty of misconduct and that he (judge) should be removed from office”.

In 2007, the SJC took up a reference against the then chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. Justice Chaudhry, however, filed a petition before a Supreme Court bench, headed by justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday, which quashed the SJC proceedings.

In 2018, the SJC took up a reference against Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui and ordered his removal for passing controversial remarks during his address to the Rawalpindi District Bar Association.

In 2020, the SJC took up a presidential reference against Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court over non-declaration of three offshore properties in the name of his wife and children. However, this reference was quashed by the Supreme Court on a petition filed by Justice Isa.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2020