ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday surprised many when it recalled the two-judge bench’s Aug 20 order of summoning several government officials in the journalist harassment case and declared that the chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) was the sole authority to invoke or assume suo motu jurisdiction under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.
“The order dated Aug 20 stands recalled… SMC (suo motu case) No.4 of 2021 and all filings therein (including the note of Justice Qazi Faez Isa) shall stand disposed of,” pronounced a unanimous two-page short order by a large bench.
The ruling, detailed reasons of which will come later, was reserved during the morning hearing but announced by Acting Chief Justice (ACJ) Umar Ata Bandial in the afternoon. The bench included Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Qazi Mohammad Amin Ahmad and Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar.
The larger bench was constituted to provide clarity about invoking suo motu jurisdiction after the two-judge bench comprising Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel had taken up an application moved by the Press Association of the Supreme Court (PAS) highlighting frequent incidents of harassment of journalists.
Declares CJP alone can invoke suo motu jurisdiction
The two-judge bench had summoned the director general of the Federal Investigation Agency and the inspector general (IG) of Islamabad police as well as the interior secretary on Aug 26.
The court had also issued notices to the secretaries of information, interior, religious affairs and human rights and representatives of different media organisations, namely the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, All Pakistan Newspapers Society, Pakistan Broadcasters Association and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, as well as Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, to state whether the allegations made in the application were correct or not.
However, the short order by the large bench explained that though the petition had been disposed of, the substantive claims made by the PAS and other journalists in their application, which they had presented before the two-judge bench on Aug 20, would be placed before the CJP for consideration.
A source privy to the development told Dawn that a file consisting the contents of the petition had been submitted to the office of Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, who is currently on a private tour to the USA.
The putting up of the PAS application before the CJP office suggests that the matter is still alive and thus no prejudice has been caused to it, according to a senior lawyer.
However, it is not clear whether ACJ Bandial will decide about the matter or the office will wait for the return of the CJP from abroad.
The short order is also clear when it declares by way of amplification that the invocation or assumption of suo motu jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 184(3) of the Constitution is based on and will be guided by the principles suggesting that the CJP is the sole authority by and through whom this jurisdiction can be invoked or assumed.
Likewise, the chief justice may invoke or assume suo motu jurisdiction in his discretion and will do so if so requested or recommended by a bench of the Supreme Court, the order says.
It also affirms in clear terms that no bench will take any step or issue any order, whether in any pending proceedings or otherwise, which would or could constitute exercise of suo motu jurisdiction such as issuance of any notice, making any inquiry or summoning any person or authority or any report unless and until the CJP has invoked or assumed this jurisdiction.
The ruling however clarifies that the matters already pending in respect of or involving suo-motu jurisdiction of the court will continue to be heard and disposed of by the benches constituted from time to time by the chief justice.
During the proceedings, ACJ Bandial assured that the petitions moved by the journalists were in the field and proceedings on it would take place on the complaints, adding that journalists represented the voice and the conscience of the society.
Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan observed that the Supreme Court was guardian of the constitution and a duty had been cast upon its judges to protect it at all cost, adding that the apex court would stand like a wall to safeguard journalist in case any harm came to them.
Justice Amin observed that the Supreme Court jealously guarded fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution and considered any attack on the journalists an attack on the Supreme Court, adding that the journalists would never leave the Supreme Court disappointed.
Earlier Supreme Court Bar Association President Abdul Latif Afridi argued that certain doors needed to be shut and a proper mechanism needed to be evolved and therefore any matter of public importance should be referred to the CJP.
However, he said that the five-judge bench could not overrule the Aug 20 order, adding that to nip the chaos and confusion in the bud, they expected that the Supreme Court would act in a united manner and decide matters in a harmonious way.
He mentioned the perception that the apex court was divided and since the phenomenon of Justice Isa had emerged, questions were being raised if a particular judge was being targeted. “Our concern is that the Supreme Court should not act in a divided manner,” he said, adding that even words like putting in “abeyance” the Aug 20 order as used by the larger bench in its order on Aug 23 had a history behind it.
Though difference of opinion was a power and the force in the vehicle but the court should remain united to defend and protect the constitution, Mr Afridi said, adding that unfortunately in Pakistan many judgements had tarnished the image of the judiciary.
“If we see the military history of Pakistan, we see that they have damaged and destroyed every institution of the country,” The SCBA president said.
He suggested that the full court consisting of all the judges should determine and chalk out the parameters of exercising suo motu jurisdiction.
Pakistan Bar Council Vice Chairman Khushdil Khan regretted that Pakistan was a Muslim country where journalists were penalised for speaking the truth when Islam ordained that those who told lies should be punished.
Published in Dawn, August 27th, 2021