Audio leaks case: Justice Isa-led commission objects to larger bench as SC adjourns hearing till next week
The government-constituted judicial commission led by Justice Qazi Faez Isa — probing the veracity of recent audio leaks — on Wednesday raised objections to the five-judge bench hearing pleas against its formation as Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial adjourned the proceedings in the case till next week.
The federal coalition had formed the commission on May 20 under Section 3 of the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act 2017. Led by senior puisne judge Justice Isa, the commission also comprises Balochistan High Court Chief Justice Naeem Akhtar Afghan and Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Aamer Farooq.
Last week, the top court, while hearing a set of four petitions against the appointment of the commission, restrained the panel from going ahead with its task.
The reserved verdict was issued by a five-member bench comprising CJP Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi and Justice Shahid Waheed.
“I am sorry to say that efforts have been made regrettably, maybe unknowingly, to draw a wedge between the judges of the court,” CJP Bandial had said.
Subsequently, the government-appointed commission decided to put its proceedings on hold until the SC decided the petitions challenging its formation.
A day earlier, the government had filed an appeal in the apex court seeking the reconstitution of the five-member bench hearing the case.
The government asked CJP Bandial, Justice Ahsan, and Justice Akhtar to distance themselves from the bench since “rules of natural justice” demanded that the “adjudicator should be impartial”.
It pleaded that the code of conduct for judges of the Supreme Court and high courts “lays down the parameters of the conduct as expected and becoming of the judge to discharge their duties in accordance with their oath and constitutional obligations”.
Subsequently, the Justice Isa-led commission, in a concise statement submitted to the SC on Wednesday, also objected to the five-member bench.
It said judges were required to not allow their “personal interest to influence their ‘official conduct’ or ‘official decisions’”.
Submitted by commission secretary Hafeezullah Khajjak, the body raised an objection to the larger bench hearing the case.
The response stated that one of the alleged audio leaks concerned the CJP’s mother-in-law and Justice Akhtar was also mentioned during the conversation.
The commission said it would not be appropriate for this bench to hear these petitions as SC judges were required to not allow their “’personal interest to influence their ‘official conduct’ or ‘official decisions’”.
The response also highlights that Supreme Court Bar Association President Abid Zuberi has “repeatedly spoken about the alleged audio recordings” on national television while his counsel Shoaib Shaheen had also appeared on similar programmes to discuss the commission’s workings.
Noting that the point of the right to privacy had been raised by the petitioners, the commission said it would consider whether the alleged audio recordings “constitute privacy of home” if the point is raised before it.
In conclusion, the commission said it had “no interest in the matter other than to undertake the assignment given to it and to do so strictly in accordance with the Constitution and the law”.
“The commission also assures that legal objections and concerns raised before it will be considered,” it said.
At the outset of today’s hearing, Advocate Riaz Hanif Rahi — who is also one of the petitioners in the case — said he wanted to file a contempt of court petition.
“We have read in newspapers that other petitions have also been filed,” the CJP said. “We will include them in the case.”
Justice Bandial also said that the court would first hear Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan’s arguments against the five-judge bench. “No decision was taken on the objections to the bench at the previous hearing.”
He further stated that the court was directing the registrar to allot a number to the AGP’s plea and directed Awan to provide copies of his petition to all the respondents.
“The government’s petition includes some words that should not have been there,” the top judge remarked.
At one point during the hearing, Advocate Shoaib Shaheen — the lawyer for Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Abid Shahid Zuberi — came to rostrum and said that the association had always defended the apex court in talk shows.
“But the judicial commission in its order said that we speak against the judiciary during talk shows,” he said. “Justice Qazi Faez Isa also said that I appear in talk shows … but we only go to defend the court.
“Whatever is said outside the SC is in front of everyone,” he further stated and drew the court’s attention towards the “kind of things being said at your door”.
At that, Justice Bandial interjected. “We will listen to everything you say when you are presenting your arguments,” he said.
The top judge went on to say that the case would be taken up any day next week and adjourned the hearing.