IHC letter

Published April 21, 2024

THIS is a historic opportunity for the judiciary to define its institutional boundaries. It must not be squandered. With the Supreme Court’s next hearing on the Islamabad High Court judges’ ‘interference’ letter coming up on April 29, the Lahore High Court has convened a full-court meeting tomorrow to solicit suggestions on “how best to protect the independence of the judiciary”. The IHC has sought similar suggestions by April 25. Citing directions issued by the SC after its April 3 hearing of the letter case, the LHC says it seeks 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”. It is encouraging to see the two courts taking up the matter proactively, and it would be quite helpful if the remaining three high courts — Sindh, Balochistan and Peshawar — also joined the debate. The judiciary’s deliberations on how to protect its members from attempts to coerce and control them need full participation if it is to be hoped that the solutions distilled from these discussions will endure.

Meanwhile, in a related development, the Islamabad High Court Bar Association has, through a petition filed earlier this week, formally joined calls demanding a probe into the judges’ letter. The IHCBA, which describes itself as a “primary stakeholder” in the letter case, has demanded that, once the probe is completed, the apex court must “pass appropriate orders to affix liability for those who undermined the independence of judiciary”. Other bar associations have previously weighed in on the matter, and though their respective positions may be differentiated, it seems that all stakeholders do want this matter to be settled definitively. It would therefore perhaps be best, given the circumstances, that Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa formed a full-court bench to deliberate on the contents of the judges’ letter — something which he had indicated in the last hearing that he may do. Given the seriousness of the complaints brought forth and endorsed by six serving judges, a full court would give the matter a certain weightiness while also sending a signal to those still seeking to infringe upon the judiciary’s domain that any further ingress will not be tolerated.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2024

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