Judges’ freedom of speech different from that of citizens: SC judge

Published June 3, 2021
The Supreme Court concluded hearing in former Islamabad High Court (IHC) Judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui’s appeal on Wednesday. — AFP/File
The Supreme Court concluded hearing in former Islamabad High Court (IHC) Judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui’s appeal on Wednesday. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court concluded hearing in former Islamabad High Court (IHC) Judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui’s appeal on Wednesday, wondering why the appellant entertained senior intelligence officers at his residence, that too three times.

“Please consider this question that not one but three times senior Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) officers came to you,” observed Justice Umar Ata Bandial. The observation came when senior counsel Hamid Khan, who was representing the former outspoken judge, said Mr Siddiqui had no choice in the matter as the officials had come to his house.

“We as judges live isolated from the world,” Justice Bandial said and asked the counsel to assist the court in determining the difference between freedom of speech available to the common citizen and judges.

Justice Bandial was heading a five-judge Supreme Court bench that had taken up the appeal moved by Justice Siddiqui against the Oct 11, 2018 notification under which he was removed.

Apex court bench was hearing appeal of former IHC judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui

Ex-judge Siddiqui was removed from the high judicial office on the recommendation of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) under Article 209 of the Constitution for displaying conduct unbecoming of a judge by delivering a speech on July 21, 2018 at the District Bar Association, Rawalpindi.

In the speech, the former judge had made remarks against the involvement of certain officers of the executive organ of the state, specifically ISI, in the affairs of the judiciary and allegedly manipulating formation of the benches of the high court. The former judge had also blamed the judiciary for allegedly undermining democratic norms in the country.

During Wednesday’s proceedings, the entire speech by Mr Siddiqui was read out by his counsel. “This tendency of speaking one’s heart out is not permissible,” observed Justice Bandial explaining further that we as judges live with our own conscience to serve the cause of the people, justice and the cause of the Constitution day in and day out.

Justice Bandial, while pointing towards Justice Mazhar Alam Khan said that the he differed in the review petition of Justice Qazi Faez Isa case, yet we were sitting together and deciding the matter.

While pointing towards Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, Justice Bandial regretted that the judge drew a line and went into public to censure the institution of the judiciary.

During the hearing, Mr Khan regretted that at the time when his client was facing the reference before SJC, former IHC chief justice Anwar Kasi was also facing a reference but the reference proceedings against him were closed when he denied that he had any information about meetings between Justice Siddiqui and intelligence officials.

On the other hand, his client’s name was suggested by the counsel in its report to the president, to be removed from the high office.

At the outset, the counsel said, three propositions have emerged: “Could a superior court judge be sacked without holding a proper inquiry? Do judges enjoy freedom of speech and whether the superior court judge could be removed or sacked on account of an undefined and unambiguous term ‘conduct unbecoming’.”

However, Justice Bandial observed that these propositions were too generalised. Judges are governed through their code of conduct, he said, adding the basic concern was the application of Article 209 of the Constitution bearing in mind the precedences set in the case of former chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and Justice Qazi Faez Isa.

Justice Bandial explained that the petition of Justice Siddiqui under Article 184 (3) of the Constitution was under a different footing and the counsel should focus on the bar of not challenging the proceedings of SJC under Article 211.

This is a strange situation where the fate of a judge of the superior court has been left at the mercy of the SJC proceedings and hinges upon a body which was not even a court rather a trial court.

Justice Bandial while referring to the speech of Justice Shaukat regretted that the speech, though emotional, because of the agony the judge endured, carried a negative opinion of the judiciary and yet he was addressing the same judiciary to reclaim his position.

Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2021

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