Ex-CJP Tassaduq Jillani to lead probe body formed after IHC judges’ letter

Published March 30, 2024
A photo of Retired Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani. — Photo courtesy World Justice Project
A photo of Retired Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani. — Photo courtesy World Justice Project

Retired Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, a former chief justice, was on Saturday appointed the head of the inquiry commission that will investigate charges of interference into judicial independence by the intelligence apparatus.

On Tuesday, six Islamabad High Court judges — out of a total strength of eight — wrote a startling letter to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) members, regarding attempts to pressure judges through abduction and torture of their relatives as well as secret surveillance inside their homes.

A day later, calls emerged from various quarters for a probe into the investigation, amid which Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa summoned a full court meeting of the Supreme Court’s judges.

After a meeting between CJP Isa and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday, the duo decided to form a commission to investigate the concerns of interference in judicial affairs following the cabinet’s approval.

According to the Terms of Reference (ToRs) for the inquiry body released today, the federal cabinet approved the appointment of former CJP Jillani as the head of the commission.

According to the ToRs, the commission will fully investigate the allegations of the IHC judges and determine their veracity, if any. It will also investigate if any official was directly involved in judicial interference and suggest action against any agency, department or state institution based on the facts unearthed.

The commission will also be at liberty to investigate any other matter during the course of the inquiry if it feels the issue to be important.

The federal cabinet repudiated the allegations of the IHC judges and declared them to be “inappropriate”, adding that the consensus of its members was that they believed in the separation of powers of state institutions as per the Constitution.

PM Shehbaz reiterated his faith in the principle of the judiciary’s independence of the judiciary and the division of constitutional powers. He briefed the cabinet members on his meeting with the chief justice and they expressed their complete support of the decisions and actions taken so far.

Meanwhile, PTI leader Sher Afzal Marwat termed the former top judge the most “misfit” person to conduct the investigation and said the party would challenge the commission’s formation.

He said the matter at hand concerned the dignity of the judiciary and CJP Isa should have taken a suo motu notice of the issue.

SCBA, PBC welcome move

The Supreme Court Bar Association commended the former CJP’s nomination and said he was “known for his impeccable character”.

The body also said that demanding the resignations of CJP Isa and the IHC chief justice “by the political individuals in response to this issue is highly inappropriate”, adding that such calls from political individuals would only serve to “politicise and divert attention from the crucial matter at hand”.

The association urged everyone to await the findings of the inquiry commission and “maintain faith in the judicial system”.

The Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) also “strongly condemned, criticised, and rejected the demand made by a political party” for CJP Isa’s resignation.

The PBC characterised the demand as a “component of a premeditated smear campaign and a fresh onslaught” against the CJP by a political party which “persistently tarnishes and targets the CJP for political advantage and damaging the judiciary”.

It said the allegations of the IHC judges should probed promptly by the inquiry body and if proven true, the allegations “present a grave threat to the institution, necessitating serious action”.

“Judges must be afforded privacy and protection, which is prime responsibility of the state. Other institutions have no authority to penetrate into the judiciary in any manner; their core responsibility lies in supporting the judiciary in its stability. Any threat or activity aimed at undermining the judiciary should be met with stringent action,” the PBC said.

The council also supported the former chief justice’s appointment to head the commission.

It said it had decided to convene a general body meeting very soon for further deliberation on the matter. “The legal fraternity stands in solidarity with the judiciary and their objective is to identify an appropriate remedy for the concerns of judiciary,” the council concluded in a press release.

Interference of executive intolerable: CJP

A statement was issued by the Supreme Court after Thursday’s meeting, saying that “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 had 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”.

Following the meeting, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar had told media persons that although the letter was not a precursor to a constitutional crisis, it was still “painful and very serious”.

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.

PTI calls on SC, IHC judges to resign over inaction

A day ago, the PTI demanded the resignation of the SC and IHC chief justices over their “inaction” on intelligence agencies’ interference in judicial affairs.

While addressing a press conference, PTI spokesman Raoof Hassan alleged that CJP Qazi Faez Isa and IHC CJ Aamer Farooq turned “a deaf ear” towards the repeated complaints of IHC judges against ISI’s interference in the judiciary’s affairs.

“Despite being informed in writing and verbally, the IHC chief justice didn’t take any action to protect judicial independence,” Hasan said, adding that it was because CJ Farooq was “complicit” in the matter.

CJ Farooq “had the biggest role” in the trial of cases against PTI founder Imran Khan and his convictions, and he “supervised” the entire process.

Hasan added that the letter also “indirectly indicted” the CJP as it stated that the CJP was apprised of the issue in “multiple meetings”.

The letter

Dated March 25, the letter was signed by IHC Justices Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri, Babar Sattar, Sardar Ejaz Ishaq Khan, Arbab Muhammad Tahir and Saman Rafat Imtiaz.

It mentioned seven instances of alleged interference and intimidation “to influence the outcome of cases of interest” by the intelligence officials, pointing out that when two out of three judges in the bench hearing the plea to disqualify PTI leader Imran Khan for concealing his alleged daughter opined that the case was not maintainable, they were pressured by “operatives of the ISI” through friends and relatives.

The situation got so stressful that one of the judges had to be admitted to hospital due to high blood pressure, the letter said.

According to the six judges, the matter was brought to the notice of the IHC chief justice and the then-CJP. The former informed the judges that he had “spoken to the DG-C of ISI and had been assured that no official from ISI will approach the judges of the IHC”.

The letter complained that “interference on the part of intelligence operatives” continued even after IHC CJ’s assurance.

It also referred to the abduction of an IHC judge’s brother-in-law by armed men who claimed to be ISI operatives. The victim was “administered electric shocks” and “forced to record a video” making false allegations, apparently against the judge.

“Subsequently, a complaint was filed against the judge of IHC before the SJC, accompanied by an orchestrated media campaign to bring pressure to bear upon the judge to resign.”

The letter revealed that in May 2023, an IHC inspection judge reported to the chief justice that district court judges were being intimidated and crackers were thrown into the house of one additional district and sessions judge.

The judge was even called to the IHC to verify the claims which he confirmed. But instead of probing the allegations, the judge “was made officer on special duty and transferred to IHC, before being sent back to Punjab as he was a judicial officer on deputation”.

The letter said that last year, during routine maintenance, an IHC judge found that his official residence had been bugged with spy cameras concealed in his drawing room and bedroom.

When data from surve­illance equipment was rec­overed, it showed that “pr­i­vate videos of the judge and his family members” were stored. “The matter was brought to the attention of the IHC chief justice. There has been no determination of who installed the equipment and who is to be held accountable…”, the letter added.

Along with their letter to the SJC, the six judges also attached copies of letters written to Justice Farooq on May 10, 2023 and Feb 12, 2024.

The letters mentioned, among other complaints, ISI officials’ efforts to pressurise IHC judges and probe into the tax records of at least one judge “to seek a certain outcome”.

They added that it was imperative to determine whether there was a “policy on the part of the executive … implemented by intelligence operatives” to intimidate judges.

“[The] allegations of interference by operatives of ISI have been dealt with and relief has been granted to a former judge of IHC who was wronged. We believe that while such action was necessary, it may not be sufficient,” the letter said about Justice Siddiqui’s case.

The judges noted that the SJC’s code of conduct for judges did not outline the response to such incidents “that are tantamount to intimidation and interfere with judicial independence”.

They called for a judicial convention to discuss the interference of intelligence officials “that undermines independence of the judiciary”.

The consultation would help the Supreme Court to determine a course of action that judges could take “when they find themselves at the receiving end”, the letter said.

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