ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court bench hearing former Islamabad High Court (IHC) judge Shaukat Aziz Siddi­qui’s plea against his removal has raised questions about whether the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) followed due process before ordering his termination.

The five-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa, reserved the verdict on Tuesday but sought opinions from lawyers to ascertain whether SJC conducted any inquiry before recommending the judge’s removal.

The judges wondered what would be the consequences if it was established that the council didn’t follow the constitutional and legal requirement of conducting a proper trial before removing a judge.

On October 11, 2018, Mr Siddiqui was removed after SJC found him guilty of misconduct over his speech at an event in July that year.

Bench reserves verdict on ex-justice Shaukat Siddiqui’s plea

While addressing an event held by the Rawalpindi District Bar Association, the former judge criticised the alleged involvement of intelligence agencies to influence the formation of benches in the high court.

Then SJC held that by making the speech, Mr Siddiqui had violated the code of conduct, and his behaviour was unbecoming of what was expected of a superior court judge. Later, Mr Siddiqui moved the Supreme Court, challenging his removal by the SJC.

Questions over SJC proceedings

During Monday’s hearing, senior counsel Hamid Khan represented the ex-judge, Khawaja Haris appeared on behalf of former ISI chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed and retired brigadier Ramay and Waseem Sajjad represented former IHC chief justice Anwar Kasi.

The bench asked the lawyers to submit written replies answering how the court could grant relief to the petitioner by sending the matter back to the SJC since Mr Siddiqui had filed the present petition in October 2018 and attained the age of superannuation in June 2021 while the matter was pending.

Another question was whether there was a need for any inquiry by the SJC since the ex-judge’s speech constituted misconduct under SJC Procedure of Enquiry, 2005.

The lawyers have been directed to furnish concise statements in three weeks, after which the court will consider re-convening if needed.

Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan argued that if the SJC did not conduct any inquiry, then the provision under Article 211 of the Constitution that the council’s proceedings can never be called into question will not apply, and the entire proceedings become mala fide under law.

He, however, requested the court to club Mr Siddiqui’s plea with the appeal moved by the federal government against the 2023 Aafia Shaharbano Zia judgement.

The said order stipulated that SJC’s proceedings against a judge accused of misconduct would be abated if the said judge resigns or retires.

The AGP emphasised that before remanding the matter back to SJC, the apex court had to overturn its decision in the Aafia Shaharbano Zia case.

CJP Isa observed that the court must not encroach upon SJC’s domain since it was a constitutional body.

He added that in the present matter, no inquiry was carried out by SJC, but the show cause notice issued to the ex-judge was on the basis of his speech in which he was accused of maligning the judiciary.

Mr Haris, the counsel for the ex-ISI chief, cited Article 5 of the Code of Conduct for the judges and emphasised that judges should not engage in any public controversy. He contended that the ex-judge can be acquitted of charges by accepting his petition.

The CJP, however, observed that it was not a question of granting relief since the nation had suffered a lot. “The present matter concerns the institution’s integrity, and if the allegations were true, then it was not a small matter but rather an institutional matter.”

During the hearing, Justice Irfan Saadat Khan reminded the counsel that SJC’s proceedings continued for two months, during which the ex-judge filed replies two or three times.

Salahuddin Ahmed, representing the Karachi Bar Association, recommended the formation of a commission of inquiry to look into the matter since the court could not send the case back to SJC as the judge was now retired.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2024

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