• Seven-member bench led by Chief Justice Isa to take up case on April 3
• Ex-CJP says his role as one-man commission may have violated ‘judicial propriety’

ISLAMABAD: After for­mer chief justice Tassa­duq Hussain Jillani refu­s­ed to become part of the one-man commission esta­bli­s­hed to probe the allegations of the executive’s int­erference in judicial affa­irs, the Sup­reme Court on Monday constituted a seven-member bench to probe the claims of meddling.

The decision to proceed under Article 184(3) came a day after a group of lawyers and civil society members wrote a letter addressed to the Supreme Court in which they said the commission was powerless to probe the claims made by the six judges of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) detailing harassment at the hands of intelligence officials.

After the letter by the IHC judges came to the fore, Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa summoned a full court meeting, followed by a meeting with the prime minister in which it was decided to form a commission under the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act 2017 after the approval of the federal cabinet.

The cabinet picked Justice Jillani to lead the commission amid reservations by the legal fraternity, who said the job could not be ‘outsourced’ since the allegations concerned the judiciary.

Headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa, a seven-judge Sup­reme Court bench will take up the March 25 letter written by the high court judges on Wednes­day (April 3). Other members of the bench are Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Jus­tice Yahya Afr­i­di, Jus­tice Jamal Khan Mando­khail, Justice Athar Mina­llah, Justice Musarrat Hilali, and Justice Naeem Akhtar Afghan. The larger bench was constituted by the three-judge committee that det­e­r­mines the fixing of cases under Section 2(1) of the Supreme Court (Prac­tice and Procedure) Act 2023.

‘Violative of judicial propriety’

The suo motu followed a one-page letter by Justice Jillani to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, in which he recused himself from heading the commission, while thanking the PM and the CJP for trusting him with the task.

According to Justice Jillani, he had gone through the letter written by six judges of the high court as well as the terms of reference approved by the cabinet as well as the relevant constitutional provisions like Article 209 of the Constitution that deals with the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).

“Since the letter is addressed to the members of Supreme Judicial Council and its chairman the chief justice of Pakistan, it would be violative of judicial propriety for me to inquire into a matter which may fall within the jurisdiction of a constitutional body which is the Supreme Judicial Council or the Supreme Court of Pakistan itself,” the ex-CJP added.

The former judge said that he was also of the view that the terms of reference were strictly not germane to the subject matter of the March 25 letter in which the six judges had stated: “We are writing to seek guidance from the SJC with regard to the duty of a judge to report and respond to actions on part of members of the executive, including operatives of intelligence agencies, that seek to interfere with discharge of his/her official functions and qualify as intimidation as well as the duty to report any such actions that come to his/her attention in relation to colleagues and/or members of the courts that the high court supervises.”

Towards the end, the request made in the letter was for an “institutional consultation” in terms of the mechanism suggested in the judges’ letter, said ex-CJ Jillani.

In his letter to the prime minister, ex-jstice Jillani expressed his regards and thanked the premier as well as the cabinet for reposing confidence in him to head the commission, stating he was grateful to CJP Isa as also the senior puisne Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah for expressing confidence in him.

Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2024

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