Lahore High Court (LHC) Chief Justice (CJ) Malik Shehzad Ahmed Khan on Friday summoned a full court meeting for April 22 to discuss how best to protect judicial independence and establish a mechanism to attach liability to those undermining such freedom.

The development comes in the wake of allegations made by six Islamabad High Court (IHC) judges against interference in judicial affairs by the country’s intelligence apparatus. On March 25, six IHC 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.

The letter was signed by judges Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri, Babar Sattar, Sardar Ejaz Ishaq Khan, Arbab Muhammad Tahir and Saman Rafat Imtiaz.

A day later, calls had 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 March 28, the duo decided to form a commission to investigate the concerns of interference in judicial affairs following the cabinet’s approval. However, former CJP Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, who was appointed to head the commission, subsequently recused himself from the matter, leading to the apex court taking a suo motu notice of the issue.

On April 3, CJP Isa asserted that “any attack” on the judiciary’s independence would not be tolerated as he hinted at forming a full court to hear a suo motu case pertaining to allegations of interference in judicial affairs.

Today, a notification issued by the LHC registrar said CJ Khan was “pleased to convene” the full court meeting for April 22 (Monday) at 1:30pm to “consider how best to protect independence of the judiciary” and to “put in place a mechanism to affix liability for those who undermine such independence and clarify for the benefit of individual judges the course they must take when they find themselves at the receiving end of interference and/or intimidation by members of the executive.

The notification said the decision was taken in light of the Supreme Court’s directions in the April 3 suo motu hearing.

“All the honourable judges gracing at principal seat are requested to make it convenient to attend the meeting on the said date, time and venue,” the notification said, adding that the judges working at the three divisional benches will participate via video link.

Contents of letter by IHC judges

The letter by the IHC judges had 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, efforts of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) personnel 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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