• Panel on audio leaks maintains challenges to its formation not taken up as per SC (Practice & Procedure) Act
• IHC stays proceedings of NA body probing audio of ex-CJP’s son

ISLAMABAD: The Sup­reme Court has adjourned until next week the hearing of challenges against a government-notified commission to investigate audio leaks, after the fact-finding body objected to the proceedings, saying that they did not conform with the requirements of a newly-passed law.

The operation of the Supreme Court (Practice & Procedure) Act 2023, which was passed by parliament in March this year, was stayed by an eight-member bench of the apex court, led by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial on April 13.

Among other changes to the CJP’s discretionary powers, the bill envisioned that every clause, appeal or matter before the Supreme Court shall be heard and disposed of by a bench constituted by the committee comprising the CJP and two senior judges, in order of seniority.

The commission is headed by senior SC Justice Qazi Faez Isa. Chief Justices of two high courts are other members of the three-man commission set up by the government on May 20 to investigate the veracity of recent audio leaks, allegedly related to politicians and judges.

However, after several petitioners challenged the commission’s formation, a five-judge Supreme Court bench suspended its proceedings.

The bench — led by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi and Justice Shahid Waheed — observed on Wednesday that it had not read a concise statement submitted by the audio commission in response to the notice earlier issued by the court.

Besides, it had also not read an application in which the federal government has requested the CJP, Justice Ahsan and Justice Akhtar to consider leaving the bench.

The commission, in its reply moved through the secretary, highlighted that the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act 2023 required that every appeal or case before the top court should be heard by a bench formed by the committee of judges comprising the chief justice and two most-senior judges of the apex court.

Since the petitions challenging the audio leaks commission were not fixed before such a bench, these petitions couldn’t be heard until the committee determined which bench should hear them, it said.

In a 12-page statement, the commission assured the top court that it had no interest other than undertaking the assignment given to it and to do so strictly according to the Constitution and the law.

It also highlighted that the oath taken by the country’s chief justice and other judges of the superior courts required them to act as per the Constitution and to abide by the code of conduct issued by the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), which required not allowing personal interest to influence official conduct or decisions.

The statement went on to highlight that one of the audio recordings allegedly pertained to CJP’s mother-in-law; besides, Justice Akhtar might also have been mentioned in the same recording. Another audio recording referred to fixing a case before a particular bench headed by Justice Ahsan.

The commission highlighted that it was formed under the Pakistan Commissions of Inquiry Act 2017, which granted the federal government the power under Section 3(2) to form an inquiry commission.

It said that the government was not required to consult the CJP to form such a commission and the law did not grant the top judge power to nominate commission members.

Merely because the government might elect to consult the CJP did not mean that he or she had to nominate commission members, the audio leaks commission said in the reply. It said the Inquiry Act had existed for over six years and no challenge to it or specifically to its Section 3(2) had been made.

The commission recalled how Advocate Khawaja Tariq Rahim, one of those whose audio had allegedly been leaked, and five others had filed six petitions against the Supreme Court Procedure Act under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.

Subsequently, the court office noted five legal objections to the maintainability of the six petitions. But the chamber appeals against the office objections were not filed, nor were these objections set aside by the Supreme Court.

Yet in these six petitions, temporary orders were passed to suspend the operation of the law and later on May 2, it was ordered that the injunction continued to be enforced against the act until further orders. On May 8, the petitions were adjourned for 24 days to June 1 (today).

The commission argued that these six petitions filed under Article 184(3) appeared not to be maintainable because the two prerequisites mentioned in that constitutional provision were not attracted, since these petitions did not constitute a matter of public importance nor did they seek the enforcement of any fundamental right.

NA panel restrained

Meanwhile, Justice Babar Sattar of the Islamabad High Court on Wednesday stayed the proceedings of a parliamentary panel on leaked audios regarding corruption in the allocation of a PTI ticket.

The committee was scheduled to take up this matter on Thursday (today).

The high court also suspended the summons issued by the National Assembly committee. It also issued notice to the federal government, asking it to come up with an answer to who was recording phone calls of different individuals.

Justice Sattar also asked the respondents to reply to the petition moved by Najam Saqib — son of former CJP Saqib Nisar — seeking to halt the parliamentary proceedings.

The high court will resume the hearing on June 19.

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2023

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