ISLAMABAD: A whispering campaign is making the rounds in legal circles suggesting suo motu proceedings against a Supreme Court judge by the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) if the content of recent audio leaks is found to be true, in which PML-Q leader Chaudhry Parvez Elahi is purportedly heard talking to a judge by phone.

The call for the SJC proceedings intensified after an informal meeting of judges discussed the issue. The meeting was held at the Supreme Court Building on Friday in which all the available 14 judges except one was present. The judge, who was the subject matter of the audio clips, also attended the meeting.

Though there is no official confirmation as to what transpired during the meeting or whether the session remained inconclusive or more such meetings will be held, it is believed that the subject matter of the meeting indeed revolved around the clips.

Three audio clips were leaked on Thursday and in one of the clips, Mr Elahi was purportedly heard talking to the judge before whose bench he wanted a corruption case to be fixed. His voice could be heard telling the judge that he was coming to meet him. The man on the other side tried to convince him that it would not be appropriate, but former Punjab chief minister Elahi insisted he was close by and would be coming without protocol and that he would pay salaam and leave.

Rising demand for SJC probe into matter

The judges’ meeting, however, was unanimous that at a time when political environment was highly charged and there was institutional polarity, such audio leaks have indeed hurt the respect and dignity of the top judiciary in the eyes of people.

While talking to Dawn on condition of anonymity, a senior counsel agreed it was high time the SJC came forward and took a step forward. He said the jurisdiction of the council was two-fold; it becomes active either when a reference is forwarded by the President, or the council on its own motion can act if some information comes to its notice provided the information is sufficient enough that requires a through probe to see whether any abuse of court process has taken place or somebody has tried to influence a judge or whether the judge had actually got influenced and the outcome of the case is on the basis of such influence.

He was of the view that such an event always put a question mark on the integrity and reputation of the highest institution of the country.

Since a series of audio leaks showed alleged close relationship of a particular politician with a judicial officer, especially when a particular case is being discussed, it suggests that attempts were allegedly made to influence the judge so that the outcome of the case in a particular manner was ensured, he feared.

Therefore, the information is enough to be placed before the SJC which could decide whether to issue a show cause notice to the judge concerned or not. But in case the judge himself decides to step down then there will be no need for any show cause notice, he explained.

The counsel recalled that audio clips surfaced at a time when a bench of Supreme Court had taken up for hearing an appeal moved by CCPO Lahore Ghulam Mehmood Dogar, who is considered close to Mr Elahi, against his repatriation to the federal government.

It is the same hearing in which the SC bench had referred the matter of the announcement of elections date for Punjab Assembly within a period of 90 days to Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial for initiating suo motu hearing.

According to senior counsel Hafiz Ahsan Ahmad Khokhar, there is no doubt that extraordinary times are being perceived in the country’s politics and economics but there seems no significant hurdle in holding the elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since it was the constitutional responsibility of the governor concerned, the caretaker government and finally the Elections Commission of Pakistan to make sure that polls in both provinces are held within 90 days as per the spirit of Article 105 of the constitution in a free, fair and transparent manner.

Another counsel, who also wished not to be named, recalled how in 2001 the then Justice Malik Muhammad Qayyum of the Lahore High Court and Justice Rashid Aziz of the Supreme Court had to resign following a finding by the Supreme Court that they were biased against the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband former president Asif Ali Zardari on the basis of a leaked telephonic talk of convicting and sentencing at the behest of the PML-N government.

On Thursday, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had asked the judiciary to take steps and prevent an irreparable loss to its credibility. The interior minister, while playing the audio clips at a press conference, had also directed the Federal Investigation Agency to register a case against Mr Elahi and arrest him after authenticating the audio through a forensic audit.

In the audio clips played at the presser, the man believed to be Mr Elahi could be heard asking two known lawyers to get the Rs460 million corruption case against his former principal secretary Muhammad Khan Bhatti fixed before a sitting apex court judge supposedly “managed” by him.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2023

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