A three-member judicial commission, formed last week to probe audio clips leaked on social media over the last few months, announced on Monday that its proceedings would be made public as PTI Chairman Imran Khan filed a plea in the top court against the body.
The commission, headed by Justice Qazi Faez Isa, was formed on May 20 under Section 3 of the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act 2017 and is required to conclude the task within a month.
Balochistan High Court Chief Justice Naeem Akhtar Afghan and Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Aamer Farooq are also included in the commission which will have “all the power to fix responsibility against the delinquents for their alleged role behind phone tapping and could exercise authority to constitute special teams consisting of experts, or form an international team and seek international cooperation or exercise powers” under the Criminal Code of Procedure.
Earlier today, the commission held its inaugural meeting at the Supreme Court’s courtroom no.7. Justice Isa sought the complete names and addresses of all those involved in the audio leaks.
He emphasised that the commission’s sole objective was to gather factual information and not to take punitive action against anyone. He contended that the commission should not be mistaken for the Supreme Judicial Council, adding that all proceedings would take place within the top court’s premises in Islamabad.
Attorney General Mansoor Usman Awan apprised the commission that it had been established under the Inquiry Commission Act.
“Should any witness or party request in-camera proceedings, appropriate orders will be issued,” Justice Isa said. “There is a possibility that we may need to visit Lahore to record the statements of a few elderly women.”
He said that the selection of the commission’s secretary would be finalised today and assured that efforts would be made to conduct proceedings in accordance with the body’s mandate.
He stated that the commission would not initiate action against any judge, reiterating that its purpose was solely to establish facts. “The jurisdiction of the Supreme Judicial Council will not be interfered with,” he said.
Justice Isa added that the commission possessed the authority to issue summons to individuals who were not cooperating with the probe. However, he said that the commission would give preference to issuing notices rather than issuing summons.
Moreover, he stated that advertisements should be published in English and Urdu newspapers in order to gather information from the public.
Justice Isa further said: “The Punjab Forensic Agency can be consulted to verify the authenticity of the audio recordings. If someone says that the voice in the audio leak was either not theirs or had been tampered with, then verification should be conducted beforehand.”
Justice Isa emphasised the need for a representative from the forensic agency to be present during the commission’s proceedings. This would enable immediate verification in case an individual denied their involvement, he added.
The commission head further stated that arrangements should be made for playing the audio recordings in question during the proceedings.
Imran files plea against judicial commission in SC
Meanwhile, PTI chief Imran Khan filed a petition in the top court against the judicial commission. The petition, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, named the Federation of Pakistan through the cabinet secretary, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Law and Justice as respondents in the case.
The petition questioned whether the federal or provincial government could requisition or select a judge from a superior court to sit in any commission/judicial commission without “prior sanction and approval of the concerned chief justice”.
It further noted that the top court had declared any telephone tapping to be against fundamental rights and asked whether a commission could go into the details of alleged phone tapping. It further asked under what authority conversations could be tapped and the consequences of doing so.
The petition said that the “self-styled” terms of reference framed by the government were politically motivated and aimed at “effecting the independence of [the] judiciary” and were an “outright” effort to circumvent and jeopardise the independence of the judicator and circumvent the enforcement of different laws.
The petition called on the court to declare the notification regarding the formation of the court to be “ultravires” and for a judicial commission to be constituted in light of the top court’s judgement regarding phone tapping to meet the interest of justice.
According to an SRO issued on May 19, 2023, the controversial audio leaks regarding judiciary and former chief justices raised serious apprehensions about the independence, impartiality and uprightness of CJPs and judges of the superior courts in the administration of justice.
“Such audio leaks have eroded public trust besides serious concerns have been raised by the general public regarding the independence, impartiality and uprightness of the CJPs and judges of the superior courts,” the notification said, adding that judiciary was one of the main pillars under the Constitution and the society’s confidence was shattered when the independence of judiciary was tarnished.
“Therefore it is imperative to [hold] inquiry into the authenticity, correctness and veracity of these audio leaks to restore not just the credibility of the judiciary but also the public trust and confidence in the judiciary in the larger public interest, as a matter of definite public importance,” explained the SRO.
In response to a question, an insider told Dawn that Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial was not consulted before the constitution of the commission — a common practice — as some of the leaks reportedly concerned his family members. Therefore, the CJP was “conflicted”; this was the reason he was not “requested to suggest names of judges to become members of the commission”.
According to the ToR, the commission will probe the authenticity of the audio leaks purportedly concerning the judiciary, a call between ex-CM Parvez Elahi and a lawyer regarding a Supreme Court judge; between Mr Elahi and lawyer Abid Zuberi regarding fixation of some cases before a particular SC bench; between Mr Elahi and an SC judge; between ex-CJP Saqib Nisar and lawyer Khawaja Tariq Rahim; between lawyer Tariq Rahim and journalist Abdul Qayyum Siddiqui on the outcome of a case pertaining to Imran Khan’s arrest on May 9; between Mr Khan and his party member about their links in the SC; between the mother-in-law of a top judge and wife of a lawyer regarding cases in SC; between the son of ex-CJP and his friend discussing the role of the ex-CJP in the award of the election ticket for a political party.
The commission will also inquire into the correctness of the allegations surfacing on print and electronic media and social media allegedly regarding the son-in-law (Ali Afzal Sahi) of the Lahore High Court CJ, allegedly influencing judicial proceedings before the LHC.
The commission will also determine violation, if any, of integrity or the process of administration of justice, independence of the judiciary, right to fair trial and equality of citizens, to determine the liability incurred by any or all persons named in the alleged audio leaks against or any other person or public office holders including under the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 or any other law, to determine as to whether any disciplinary proceedings are attracted.
The commission will also be empowered to fix the responsibility of any person or public office holder aiding and abetting by any act in violation of the laws of Pakistan so determined, to recommend any necessary legal action by any agency, department or person etc. If these audio leaks proved to be fake or fabricated, the commission will inquire into and fix responsibility with regards to who is making these and recommend action to be taken in this regard, it added.
According to the TORs, it will be the duty of all executive authorities in the federal [government] and the provinces to aid the commission and comply with any of its directions.
The commission will be entitled to establish a secretariat and appoint a secretary for the inquiry at the cost of the federal government whereas the attorney general for Pakistan will assist the commission by providing all documents and material required by it.
The commission will initiate the inquiry immediately after the notification of its constitution and will conclude the investigation and submit its report to the federal government within 30 days which can be extended.
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