FORMER chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) Tassaduq Hussain Jillani had once emphasised the need to determine the limits and contours of jurisdiction under Article 184(3) of the Constitution to discourage frivolous petitions and to prevent misuse of the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction by vested interests.

But now Justice Jillani has been chosen as the commission by the federal government and a great responsibility rests on his shoulders. The former judge has to tread carefully to assuage the fears of the Islamabad High Court judges, who vented their frustration by writing a letter to the Supreme Judicial Commission (SJC) on March 25.

After the judges accused the spy agencies of interference in judicial affairs, Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa called a full court meeting followed by a cabinet-approved commission led by Justice Jillani to probe these allegations.

Justice Jillani also served as an ad hoc judge of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague and had dissented from the majority decision in the Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav case.

Experts call former CJP honest, but say job can’t be outsourced

He was also awarded the International Justice Excellence Award in 2019 for promoting justice at home and around the world by the International Institute for Justice Excellence.

Though Justice Jillani’s choice was appreciated by legal circles since he was revered as a polite and decent person, the formation of the commission has raised eyebrows.

Senior counsel and the former Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president Muhammad Akram Sheikh was of the view that Justice Jillani was his family friend and has impeccable integrity. But the question here was not his personality but the inquiry into the allegations by judges which cannot be outsourced to an outside inquiry commission.

“Independence of the judiciary is not negotiable,” he said, adding the probe into the allegations of interference “cannot be outsourced” and the commission was not a substitute for ensuring independence of the judiciary.

Since the independence of the judiciary has been invaded, the responsibility can be fixed by the federal government and the defence ministry only, Mr Sheikh suggested.

Thus the constitution of this commission only reflects an effort to avoid addressing this issue, he regretted.

Mr Sheikh explained that he had the highest regard for Justice Jillani who has been his contemporary and a dear friend and he can vouch for his integrity.

But, it is certain that his appoi­ntment has only been made “to sil­ence the demand for independent working of honourable judges”.

On the other hand, former additional attorney general Tariq Mehmood Khokhar said the commissions of inquiries cannot possibly be the guardians of judicial independence. “There is no guarantee that their recommendations will be accepted.”

“Democratic accountability through a parliamentary committee of inquiry would have been more effective,” he suggested.

The ex-law officer said judges are and ought to be the ultimate guardians of their independence.

“Coercion of judiciary” is a very grave allegation, he observed, adding that judicial abdication in such matters, by an institution known for judicial activism, is difficult to understand.

Senior counsel Abdul Moiz Jafferii said it was “disappointing” that the Supreme Court left it to the government to determine its own alleged harassment of sitting judges.

“Secondly, it is even more disappointing that Justice Jillani has agreed to become part of this process,” he said.

The only thing that can definitively be said to happen as a result of this commission was that it would lower the reputation of the person chairing it, he feared.

Meanwhile, Munir Ahmed Khan Kakar, a member of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), presided over a meeting of lawyers from Balochistan and unanimously rejected the appointment of the commission.

Instead of appointing a retired judge as the commission, the representative body said the Supreme Court should have initiated proceedings under a suo motu which should be heard by a full court consisting of all the judges of the Supreme Court.

Quetta Bar Association officials also decided to call a formal meeting on April 2 to chalk out a future line of action in this regard.

However, the current SCBA president, Shahzad Shaukat, welcomed the appointment of Justice Jillani “with open heart” and said he had the honour of serving with him both in the high court and the Supreme Court when he was the CJP.

He said Justice Jillani was independent-minded and a person of integrity.

He added that the terms of reference (ToR) of the commission were very explicit and had no hidden malice.

“I am confident that, being a man of integrity, Justice Jillani will come up with an impartial report so that such happening could be avoided in future.”

Meanwhile, Pakistan Bar Council Vice Chairman Riazat Ali Sahar and Chairman of the Executive Committee Farooq Hamid Naek rejected the demand made by a political party for the resignation of the CJP in the wake of the IHC judges’ allegations.

Profile

Justice Jillani, who was born on July 6, 1949 in Multan served as the 21st CJP from Dec 12, 2013 until July 5, 2014.

He took oath as judge of the Lahore High Court on Aug 7, 1994 and was elevated to the Supreme Court as judge on July 31, 2004 where he served till the imposition of the state of emergency on November 3, 2007.

Justice Jillani is known for his landmark 2014 judgement for the protection of minority rights and promoting a culture of religious and social tolerance.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2024

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