CHIEF Justice Qazi Faez Isa meets Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in the Supreme Court, on Thursday. Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Attorney General Mansoor Usman Awan and SC Registrar Jazeela Aslam are also present.—Courtesy Supreme Court
CHIEF Justice Qazi Faez Isa meets Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in the Supreme Court, on Thursday. Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Attorney General Mansoor Usman Awan and SC Registrar Jazeela Aslam are also present.—Courtesy Supreme Court

• Executive interference will not be tolerated in judicial affairs, CJP Isa says
• Premier commits to legislation to rein in spy agencies, in line with Faizabad case verdict
• Law minister says cabinet expected to give nod to commission tomorrow

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif decided on Thursday to form a commission to investigate the concerns of interference in judicial affairs — raised by judges of the Islamabad High Court — following the cabinet’s approval.

The commission will be formed under the Pakistan Commi­ssions of Inquiry Act, 2017 after the approval of the federal cabinet tomorrow (Saturday).

Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, who accompanied the prime minister during the latter’s meeting with the chief justice, told reporters that the cabinet would meet on Friday (today) to consider the appointment of the commission, whose terms of reference (ToR) would be formulated by Attorney General Mansoor Usman Awan.

However, it was later announced that the cabinet meeting had been postponed until Saturday.

A full court meeting, which concluded a day earlier without reaching any decision, was reconvened on Thursday after the meeting between the CJP and the PM, according to a statement issued by the Supreme Court.

According to the statement: “The CJP clearly stated that interference by the executive in the affairs and judicial workings of judges will not be tolerated and under no circumstances can the independence of the judiciary be allowed to be compromised.”

“During the meeting, a proposal was made to constitute an inquiry commission under the Pakistan Commissions of Inquiry Act, 2017, which should be headed by a retired Judge of impeccable integrity to inquire into the matter,” the statement said.

The statement added that the premier had assu­red the top judge of “appropriate measures to ensure an independent judiciary, including issuance of directions to the relevant depar­t­ments, and initiating legislation in accordance with paragraph 53 of the suo motu in the Faizabad sit-in judgement”.

‘Democratic dispensation’

During the meeting, the prime minister assured CJP Faez Isa that the government would not compromise on the independence of the judiciary at any cost. The premier also appreciated recent judgements rendered by the Supreme Court that accord respect to parliament and its law-making process and expressed the hope that the judiciary will render decisions to promote democratic dispensation in similar zeal.

He brushed aside the impression that the letter by the high court judges constituted misconduct on the part of the judges, adding that the CJP had agreed that a probe should be conducted under prevailing laws.

Cabinet to approve commission

Following the meeting, the law minister told media persons that although the letter was not precursor to a constitutional crisis, it was still “painful and very serious”.

Though he said the cabinet would determine who would be the members of the commission, it would be led by an upright retired Supreme Court judge or a former chief justice of a high court.

Legal observers, however, are of the view that the cabinet may consider appointing former Justice Maqbool Baqar or Manzoor Malik to head the commission.

Both are retired judges of the Supreme Court and are considered very respectable. However, it will be up to the commission to decide whether it should hold its proceedings in the open or in-camera. The last such commission was formed by the federal government in May 2023 and it was led by Justice Qazi Faez Isa.

The law minister said that an inquiry by the commission was necessary to discourage a repeat of things in future while also admitting that the full court had also considered different options, like invoking Article 184(3) of the Constitution to initiate proceedings.

During his talk, the minister parried a question when asked whether the high court judges would also record their testimonies before the commission and cross-examined during the proceedings.

Law to rein in spy agencies

In his meeting, PM Shehbaz assured CJP Isa and Justice Shah of initiating legislation to rein in intelligence agencies within their domain, as per the statement issued after the meeting.

The reference to paragraph 53 of the judgement in the Faizabad dharna case refers to directions to the federal government to “enact laws which clearly stipulate the respective mandate of the intelligence agencies”.

In this para, the court had issued multiple directions to the federal government regarding the role of intelligence officials.

The Supreme Court directed that “all intelligence agencies (including ISI, IB and MI) and the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) must not exceed their respective mandate. They cannot curtail the freedom of speech and expression and do not have the authority to interfere with broadcasts and publications, in the management of broadcasters/publishers and in the distribution of newspapers.”

“To best ensure transparency and the rule of law it would be appropriate to enact laws which clearly stipulate the respective mandates of the intelligence agencies,” directed the apex court.

The ruling also reminded the members of the armed forces of their oath and stressed that “the Constitution emphatically prohibits members of the armed forces from engaging in any kind of political activity, which includes supporting a political party, faction or individual”.

The judgement had also directed the federal government to initiate action against those personnel of the armed forces who were found to have violated their oath.

PTI takes exception

Meanwhile, the PTI took exception to the announcement of a commission to investigate the letter from the high court judges. In an “emergency meeting”, the party’s core committee rejected the proposed inquiry commission.

The forum stressed that in the light of the demand of the IHC judges, a judicial conference should be convened and judges of all tiers of the judiciary should be allowed to present facts on this subject before the nation.

Ikram Junaidi in Islamabad also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2024

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