ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed an application of Justice Qazi Faez Isa seeking live telecast of the proceedings on his review petition against the verdict in presidential reference case.

The apex court had on March 18 reserved its decision on the plea.

The application was dismissed by a 6-4 majority of a larger bench of 10 judges headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial. The short order stated: “For reasons to be recorded later, this miscellaneous application is dismissed. However, the right of the people to have access to information in matters of public importance under Article 19-A of the Constitution is recognised, the details and modalities of which are to be decided by the full court on the administrative side.”

Justice Maqbool Baqar, Justice Manzoor Ahmad Malik, Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah dissented from the majority judgement. They were of the opinion that the SC registrar should take measures for live streaming of the matters of public interest.

In a rebuttal to Additional Attorney General Chaudhry Amir Rehman’s arguments against live telecast of the proceedings, Justice Faez Isa of the Supreme Court had on March 17 contended that since electronic and print media were not independent, the proceedings on his review petition were not being reported fairly.

On June 19, 2020, seven judges of a 10-member bench had quashed the presidential reference against Justice Isa, but ordered the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to conduct an inquiry into foreign assets of the judge’s family members and submit a report to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).

Four judges dissent from majority judgement

In their dissenting note, Justice Baqir, Justice Malik, Justice Miankhel and Justice Shah held that Article 19-A of the Constitution created an obligation on state institutions, including the judiciary, to take necessary measures to ensure realisation of the fundamental right of citizens to have access to information in matters of public importance.

It stated that under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, review petitions and other matters arising therein were matters of public importance and the public had a right to know and see how proceedings in these cases were conducted and concluded by the court.

The four judges were of the view that “live streaming (audio and video) of court hearings of these cases should be made available for information of the public through a link on the official website of this court”. They said the SC registrar needed to ensure that unedited audio recording of the proceedings of the court hearing the review petitions was made available to the public on the official website of the court on the same day soon after the hearing and before the close of working hours.

In a separate note, Justice Yahya Afridi said: “I find the right of the public to have access to live-streaming or audio-video recording, written transcript or any other medium, of the court hearings in the proceedings of public importance, including those under Articles 184(3) and 186 of the Constitution, is their fundamental right under Article 19A of the Constitution.”

He was of the view that the matter should be placed before a full court for appropriate steps as it deems fit, under Article 191 of the Constitution, to effectuate this fundamental right of the public.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2021

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