ISLAMABAD: The Tyrian White case — a petition filed against former prime minister Imran Khan for concealing his alleged daughter — seems to have become something more than a paternity matter.

This is because the case was one of the only matters specifically referenced by Islamabad High Court (IHC) judges as having invited “pressure” from intelligence operatives after a letter written by six judges to the Supreme Judicial Council became public.

“Considerable pressure was brought to bear on judges who had opined that the petition was not maintainable, by operatives of the ISI, through friends and relatives of these judges,” said the letter addressed to the SJC on March 25.

Following an abortive attempt by the government to form a one-member commission to probe the matter, the complaints of meddling in judicial affairs have now been taken up by the Supreme Court in exercise of its suo moto jurisdiction, and are now likely to be deliberated upon by a full court on April 29.

Set to be taken up again after nearly a year, IHC judges said the matter drew ‘considerable pressure’ from intel operatives who wanted to ensure the plea was deemed ‘maintainable’

Referred to in the letter as “Muhammad Sajid vs Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi (Writ Petition No. 3061 of 2022)”, this case has been on the back burner since May last year, when IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq dissolved a three-member bench hearing the case. The high court is likely to take up the matter again in the coming days, but the circumstances under which the bench was scuttled seemed quite peculiar, even at the time.

Maintainability and a ‘premature’ verdict

A three-member larger bench consisting of IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq, Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, and Justice Arbab Muhammad Tahir had reserved their verdict on March 30, 2023.

During earlier hearings, Justice Kayani had questioned the locus standi (right of audience) of the petitioner, Mohammad Sajid, whereas the presiding judge Justice Farooq appeared to be convinced on this particular aspect.

It should be noted that former IHC chief justice Athar Minallah had earlier dismissed a similar petition.

During the hearing of the petition on March 2, 2023, the counsel for the petitioner argued that Imran Khan had submitted an affidavit to the Superior Court of California in a case related to the custody of Tyrian, his alleged daughter.

But the chief justice corrected him, saying that it was not an affidavit, rather a declaration that was signed by an oath commissioner in Pakistan.

At the time, Justice Kayani had pointed out that the declaration never mentioned that Mr Khan was the father of the girl, and questioned the bona fides of the petitioner, observing that only Tyrian White herself could file a petition seeking paternity rights.

Then, on May 10, the opinions of two judges were uploaded on official website of the court, only to be taken down within minutes.

The registrar office then issued a statement clarifying that “the opinion of two judges was uploaded alone with office notes, which does not constitute [a] judgement of the court”.

The statement said the “chief justice has reconstituted the bench for rehearing of the case”, and that action was “being taken against those responsible for uploading the opinion without issuance of cause list”.

Not seeing eye to eye

The letter by the six IHC judges also hinted that some judges do not see eye to eye with the incumbent chief justice of the country’s ‘youngest high court’.

The letter recounted a number of communications with the IHC chief justice, especially in the context of the Tyrian White case.

While the judges noted that the IHC CJ had told them that no official from the intelligence agencies would approach them, they complained that the interference continued despite this assurance.

It is telling that senior puisne judge Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani — the senior-most after the chief justice — is one of the authors of the letter.

On the surface, Chief Justice Farooq and Justice Kayani have a good working relationship, as both used to sit on the same division bench and have decided a number of important political cases in the past, including references against Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Asif Ali Zardari.

The two were also part of the original bench hearing the Tyrian White case before it was dissolved.

However, Justice Kayani was recently assailed by a complaint before the Supreme Judicial Council, which accuses him of “inducing and convincing other judges of high court” in connection with the letter.

Retired Justice Noorul Haq N. Qureshi, himself a former senior puisne judge of IHC, told Dawn that differences between the chief justice and the second senior-most judge are “a routine occurrence” in the superior judiciary. He said that the senior-most judge expects power to be shared, but some chief justices want “absolute authority”.

“I also experienced the same, but I never complained because I thought it would harm the reputation of the institution that administers justice to the public at large,” he said.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2024

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