• Commission says it’s not assuming authority of SJC
• Imran asks SC to declare body illegal, unconstitutional

ISLAMABAD: As the government-appointed judicial commission tasked with investigating audio leaks on Monday decided that its proceedings would made public, PTI Chairman Imran Khan challenged its constitution in the Supreme Court with a request to declare the panel as illegal and unconstitutional.

The three-member commission, headed by Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court, in its maiden session made it clear that it was not akin to or assuming the authority of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) constituted under Article 209 of the Constitution which probes cases against superior court judges on misconduct.

The commission also observed that it will endeavour to perform its functions to the best of its ability as per the notification and in accordance with the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act 2017.

The federal government had on May 20 notified commission to probe the veracity of alleged audio leaks, some of which raised serious apprehensions about the independence of the judiciary. Other members of the commission include Balochistan High Court Chief Justice Naeem Akhtar Afghan and Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Aamer Farooq.

During the session, the commission observed that Section 14(2) of the act authorises it to fix places and times of its sittings and decide whether its proceedings will be open or in-camera.

But to ensure transparency and openness, the commission opined that the proceedings should be open and inquired from Attorney General (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan whether he had any objection to it.

The AGP replied that he did not have any objection but requested for in-camera sessions in case of sensitive information not appropriate to be shared in the open court.

Accordingly, the commission decided that unless any request to proceed in-camera was made its proceedings will remain open to all. The commission clarified that any person/witness appearing before it was neither an accused nor will be treated as such and will be called upon to ascertain facts as per the task assigned to the panel.

“Every person/witness will be treated with due regard and respect, and we expect that this will be reciprocated,” the commission said, adding that undoubtedly, the act, read with the notification, empowers it to employ coercive means for ensuring attendance or compliance.

But the commission expressed the hope and expected that all concerned will come forward when called upon to do so without the commission having to resort to coercive measures to secure attendance or compliance.

The commission appointed Balochistan High Court’s deputy registrar Hafeezullah Khajjak as its secretary as per clause 9 of the notification.

All interaction between the AGP office and all concerned, including witnesses, will be with the secretary whereas the chairperson and members of the commission will not be contacted. The commission directed the government to provide an android cellphone with SIM to the secretary immediately and share his contact details with all concerned.

Moreover, all concerned, including witnesses and the general public, will be informed through advertisements in three Urdu and English language newspapers each of wide circulation. The advertisements will inform all those mentioned in the notification and by those who may have any information to provide the same to the commission secretary through email (inquirycommission2023@gmail.com), messages on cellphone (0301-5579326) or by post (Supreme Court Building, care of Private Secretary to Justice Qazi Faez Isa, Judges Block, Supreme Court Building, Constitution Avenue, Sector G-5, Islamabad).

The venue of the commission will be Court Room No. 2 in Supreme Court.

The next hearing will take place on May 27.

PTI petition

Challenging the constitution of the commission in the Supreme Court, the PTI chief alleged that the “self-styled” terms of reference (ToR) were politically motivated and aimed at affecting the independence of the judiciary.

The petition, filed by Advocate Babar Awan, contended that the act of constituting the commission and its notification amounted to a confession by the sitting regime that under their nose by phone tapping, fundamental rights as given under Articles 4, 9 and 19 were violated.

The petition highlighted the need for constituting a judicial commission to enforce the right to life, including inviolability of dignity of man, equality before law, protection of life to probe extra-judicial killings, alleged ruthless arrests, custodial tortures and deaths of common citizens/peaceful protestors and others, uploading of audios and videos of custodial torture, protection of women, girls and boys, inviolability of privacy of home, inviolability of safeguards as to arrests and detentions, freedom of movement, assembly, speech and the press.

The petition argued that ToR of the commission suffered from a deliberate omission and they have failed to take into account the issue that who was behind unlawful and unconstitutional surveillance of the Prime Minister Office and sitting judges of the Supreme Court.

The petition requested the apex court to determine the effect of the formation of the commission by the federal government at their own without taking into considering the provisions of Article 175(3) of the Constitution without the sanction of the chief justice of Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2023

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