SC sets aside dismissal of former IHC judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui

Published March 22, 2024
In this file photo, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui addresses the Rawalpindi District Bar Association. — DawnNewsTV/File
In this file photo, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui addresses the Rawalpindi District Bar Association. — DawnNewsTV/File

The Supreme Court (SC) on Friday set aside the dismissal of former Islamabad High Court (IHC) senior puisne judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui.

In January, a five-member bench — led by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa and including Justice Aminuddin Khan, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, Justice Hasan Azhar Rizvi, and Justice Irfan Saadat — had reserved its verdict on Siddiqui’s plea against his removal. The proceedings of the case were broadcast live on the apex court’s website.

In his petition, the former judge had challenged a decision of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) about his dismissal from service and an Oct 11, 2018 notification under which he was removed for a speech he had delivered at Rawalpindi Bar Association.

In his speech, Justice Siddiqui had accused the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of influencing the court proceedings and forming benches of choice.

Siddiqui had nominated seven individuals in his amended plea, however, the court remarked that three others — former chief of army staff Qamar Javed Bajwa, and two retired brigadiers Faisal Marwat and Tahir Wafai — had no direct connection with the case.

On January 22, former ISI director general retired Lt Gen Faiz Hameed submitted his response to Justice Siddiqui’s petition, wherein he rejected the allegations of his involvement in constituting IHC benches to prolong the detention of former premier Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz. The ex-spymaster claimed Justice Siddiqui had dragged him into the case for no reason.

Last month, in a 23-page concise statement submitted to the SC, Gen Faiz and Brig Irfan Ramay, through their counsel Khawaja Haris Ahmed, contended that the Constitution does not provide for the continuation of SJC proceedings against judges who either resigned from office or retired on reaching superannuation prior to the conclusion of such proceedings.

At the last hearing, the SC had raised questions about whether the SJC followed due process before ordering his termination and reserved the verdict in the case.

In its written verdict issued today, the SC said that the SJC’s opinion about Siddiqui’s dismissal and the subsequent notification issued on Oct 11, 2018 were “set aside”.

The apex court noted that a “delay that occurred in hearing and deciding these petitions meant that in the interregnum, Justice Siddiqui attained the age of 62 years, at which age a judge of the high court retires”.

“Therefore, Justice Siddiqui cannot be restored to the position of judge,” the verdict said.

“Consequently, Justice Siddiqui shall be deemed to have retired as a judge of the IHC and he will be entitled to receive all the benefits and privileges due to a retired judge, by allowing these petitions in the above term,” it stated.

The apex court observed that a “failure to abide by the fundamental right of due process resulted in Justice Siddiqui being treated unfairly and it was conjecturally assumed that he was making false allegations”.

“The action, as it was taken, against Justice Siddiqui constituted mala fide and the SJC had acted coram non judice,” the SC asserted.

The judgment said the SJC had determined Siddiqui as guilty of misconduct “without ascertaining the veracity of the allegations and without conducting an inquiry” and “merely because he had taken the matter public”.

“If all that Justice Siddiqui alleged was true then it would be unjust and unfair to punish him for highlighting wrongdoing at the highest level. But, if on the other hand what he had alleged was found to be false then he would be guilty of misconduct,” the SC asserted.

It stressed the need to ascertain the veracity of the allegations against the former judge, noting that the then-army chief and the government had “explicitly requested” the same.

The order noted that the SJC “did not state what particular misconduct Justice Siddiqui was guilty of”.

“The SJC appears to have been shocked because Justice Siddiqui had made serious allegations and had done so publicly; without appreciating that these were not generalised allegations with regard to the ISI as a whole but against certain officers within its ranks, and specific allegations against his own Chief Justice,” the order said.

The apex court observed that the SJC’s approach of assuming that “a person in a senior position would be telling the truth while one junior to him would not” was “not correct”.

It further said that the former IHC judge was “not provided with an opportunity to establish the truth of the allegations he levelled, but was punished for levelling them”.

The order emphasised that the “SJC must only adjudge in accordance” with the code of conduct it was empowered to issue, which was “concomitant in ensuring the independence of the judiciary”.

It said the independence of the judiciary “receives a severe setback” if a judge can be removed “without even inquiring into the allegations levelled by or against the judge”.

The verdict also said that the government, in a letter issued on July 24, 2018, had wanted the veracity of the allegations to be determined. However, on June 10, 2021, a statement was submitted on behalf of the government asserting that “as specific allegation about certain officers of the state were made in the petition and read out in Court, on instructions it is placed before this honourable court, that the allegations made are baseless, misleading and, therefore, denied”.

The order said that the statement was filed by the office of the Attorney General for Pakistan and “contradicted” the letter by the government.

“The irreconcilable contradiction was not reconciled by the attorney general nor was it disclosed how it had been ascertained that the allegations were baseless. Learned Anwar Mansoor Khan, who was then the attorney general had undermined his credibility by his own conduct,” it said.

The order said that the SJC was “apparently misled” by the then-attorney general’s understanding of the law wherein he contended that the council could go “beyond the provisions of the code of conduct to determine what constitutes misconduct by a judge”.

End of 7-year period of agony: Siddiqui

Talking on DawnNewsTV show ‘InFocus’ about the verdict, Siddiqui said he was grateful for an end to a “seven-year period of agony”.

Expressing his gratitude to the Supreme court, legal and media community and civil activists, the former judge said he considered the verdict to be an act of divine providence.

“I am completely satisfied with the verdict.”

He said the verdict not only represented the defeat of all those individuals he accused of “manipulating” events and court affairs but also the judicial set-up of the time collaborating with them.

Siddiqui said he had consistently called for an investigation about his allegations but rued that they were not thoroughly probed through a judicial commission.

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