ISLAMABAD: Senior lawyer Hamid Khan, representing the outspoken former judge of the Islamabad High Court Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, on Tuesday accu­sed the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), which had recommended removal of the judge from the office, of acting under the influence of the country’s key intelligence agency.

The assertion did not go down well with the five-judge Supreme Court bench that had taken up Mr Siddiqui’s appeal against the opinion of the SJC and the Oct 11, 2018 notification under which he was removed as superior court judge for his July 21, 2018 speech at the District Bar Association, Rawalpindi.

In the speech he had made remarks about involvement of certain officers of the executive organ of the State, specifically the Inter-Services Intelligence, in judicial affairs to allegedly manipulate formation of the benches of the high court.

“I am deeply grieved by such sweeping remarks,” Justice Umar Ata Bandial, who headed the bench, said and told Mr Khan that he was a senior lawyer but when he started hitting boundaries it became unbearable.

“Don’t hurl abuses like this,” Justice Bandial said. “One can criticise judgments of this court to their heart’s delight but don’t go beyond it and start criticising the people and the judges who are voiceless and cannot defend themselves.

“We do not even have a PRO (public relations officer) to stand for us,” Justice Bandial observed, reminding the counsel that he (the judge) was also a member of the five-judge SJC. But Mr Khan retorted that he was mentioning the old SJC of which Justice Bandial was not the member.

The former judge was not present in the courtroom No. 2.

“The petitioner has swept us all across the board,” Justice Bandial regretted adding the former judge had maligned his own institution.

Referring to the order the former judge had issued after hearing the case about the Nov 2017 four-week long sit-in by the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Justice Bandial regretted that the former judge had started fresh proceedings on suo motu with observations against the armed forces, when he was supposed to issue notices to them and bring to the notice of the chief justice of his high court or the then chief justice of Pakistan if some information had come to his attention since they were the only competent authorities to initiate any action on such matters.

“As judges we have to abide by certain discipline but the speech made by the former judge goes beyond that discipline,” Justice Bandial observed.

Hamid Khan however tried to establish that his client had been facing a number of complaints but things had been going at a snail’s pace. He recalled that the reference filed in 2015 for excessive renovation of Mr Siddiqui’s official residence was adjourned sine die on July 31, 2018 but another show cause notice was issued the same evening 10 days after he made the speech at the Rawalpindi bar. Earlier in Nov 27, 2018, the former judge faced another reference on the complaints of former MNA Jamshed Dasti and Ms Kalsoom for bringing the institution of the army into disrepute for his order issued in the TLP dharna case.

In the dharna case order the former judge had referred to an agreement reached between an army official and the TLP, which had blocked the Faizabad junction, and had regretted that armed forces had no business bringing a compromise over the TLP dharna and that the agreement bore the signatures of the then director general counter terrorism Maj Gen Faiz Hameed and by doing so the top leadership of the armed forces went beyond its constitutional domain thus putting the dignity of the army at stake.

That was the critical order after which all hell broke loose against his client, the counsel argued, adding it was after these observations in the dharna case judgement that things started moving fast and show cause notices started coming from the SJC one after another. The counsel tried to establish that it was done under the influence of the ISI.

He emphasised that making speeches at public forums did not constitute misconduct and recalled that the incumbent chief justice of Pakistan recently made a speech at a public forum and that former judge M.R. Kiani used to criticise martial law at public forums.

Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan said the judges had to follow certain parameters and their speeches should concern issues related to the bench and the bar or jurisprudential issues. “But speeches criticising the government or different institutions go out of the way.”

Had there been an inquiry by the SJC, the scope of the speech could have been determined, Mr Khan argued. But Justice Ahsan wondered whether it was the job of the judge to go to public forums and make speeches against his own institution.

“There are certain parameters like a judge cannot question foreign policy or demand sacking of foreign minister or foreign secretary or discuss CTBT or suggest that the country’s nuclear policy should be scrapped,” Justice Ahsan observed adding the SJC acted against the former judge since he chose to take his point of view to the public forum.

Justice Sardar Tariq Masood reminded the counsel that Justice Kiani never maligned his own institution, highlighting that the court had to define the real meaning of the inquiry.

Justice Masood wondered why the former judge who questioned the action of Faiz Hameed in the dharna case order later met the same officer at his house on three occasions.

The counsel argued that he was making a case of mala fide since the SJC did not conduct any inquiry.

He said the court’s judgment on the matter would lay down precedence for future of the judiciary since any military regime in future could throw out any judge on flimsy grounds without any inquiry by the SJC even for having a quarrel with his wife by issuing a simple show cause notice.

Justice Bandial however emphasised that Mr Siddiqui was removed on a reference as the SJC took suo motu notice and since the speech was undisputed there was no need of conducting an inquiry.

The case will be taken again next week.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2021

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