ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court will commence hearing on Friday (today) on a set of petitions moved to challenge the government-appointed judicial commission in audio leaks, as well as seeking to quash the setting up and proceedings of the commission.

Headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, a five-judge panel consisting of Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi and Justice Shahid Waheed will take up a set of four petitions moved by president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) Abid Shahid Zuberi, SCBA Secretary Muqtedir Akhtar Shabbir, PTI Chairman Imran Khan and Advocate Riaz Hanif Rahi. These petitions seek to declare the constitution of the audio commission as illegal.

The three-man commission on audio leaks, led by Justice Qazi Faez Isa, will resume its hearing on Saturday in the Supreme Court building.

Both Abid Zuberi and Muqtedir Shabbir filed the petition on Thursday, in which they requested the SC to order the federal government, the inquiry commission, Pemra and PTA to identify persons or entities operating anonymous Twitter accounts/handles. They further requested the court to pass directions to fix responsibility for engaging in the unconstitutional practice of illegal phone tapping in the territory of Pakistan.

Five-judge bench to take up challenges filed by SCBA president and Imran Khan, among others

Likewise, Imran Khan has also pleaded in the petition that the commission should probe the ‘powerful elements’ behind the audio leaks. These elements allegedly tapped and recorded telephone conversations of citizens, including high-ranking public functionaries.

The SCBA petitions contend that the government or any person, authority, or functionary, whether identified or anonymous, should not conduct surveillance of citizens through phone tapping, phone interception, or any other similar means, except in accordance with the Investigation for Fair Trial Act, 2013.

The petitions also pray before the apex court to declare that no legal proceedings or penal action, under any law including the Pakistan Commissions of Inquiry Act, 2017, could be taken against any citizen based on alleged audio recordings mentioned in the May 19 notification by any other state body, including regulatory bodies.

The petitions argue that with the advent of modern technology and the popularity of social media, it has become possible to anonymously upload illegally obtained tapped phone conversations or fabricate, distort, manipulate and disseminate such illegal recordings across the populace, anonymously, to cast aspersions against institutions such as the judiciary or to blackmail citizens.

All the audio recordings referred to in the May 19 notification have been disseminated by uploading them on unverified, anonymous social media accounts. It is submitted that such unlawful tactics not only blatantly violate the law and the constitution but also enable those in power to suppress citizens and trample upon their fundamental rights without attracting any liability or leaving any trace.

The petition submits that such conduct cannot be allowed, as it will further erode the fabric of society, respect and dignity of individuals, as well as institutions, and the rights and privileges enjoyed by citizens.

Abid Zuberi argued that any communication between an advocate and his client is protected by legal privilege. Illegally recording legally privileged communications that took place over different periods of time and then doctoring such communications to further a nefarious agenda violates Article 18 of the Constitution and the protections afforded by law.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2023

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