ISLAMABAD, March 12: The Supreme Judicial Council initiates on Tuesday its proceedings on the reference against Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. Sources confirmed that the proceedings would be held in camera and media would not be allowed to cover them.

However, former chief justices and judges of the apex court have observed that there is room for open proceedings on the reference, as sought by Justice Chaudhry.

The charges levelled against the chief justice are still unclear, but it is believed that an open letter written by lawyer Naeem Bokhari forms the basis of the reference.

Talking to Dawn, former Supreme Court judge Nasir Aslam Zahid said the allegations levelled against Justice Chaudhry had already appeared in the media and there was no justification for in-camera proceedings. He said restricted proceedings were normally meant for cases relating to family matters, rape or those involving state secrets.

He said the inquiry by the SJC should be open and the charges framed against the chief justice should be made public.

He said there was no room in the law and the constitution to suspend or place under house arrest a person who was still the chief justice of Pakistan. He said even a murderer became a free man when bail was granted to him and there was no justification for putting restrictions on Justice Chaudhry. He said denying the chief justice the opportunity to read newspapers and watch TV was also inappropriate.

“He should have no problem if he wants to go with his family members to have a cup of tea somewhere. He should even have no problem in going to his chambers and meeting his colleagues. All one can do is to request him not to perform his judicial functions while the reference against him is pending,” he remarked. He pointed out that under Article 14 of the constitution, dignity of a man was inviolable.

He noted that the president could have waited for some days to allow Justice Rana Baghwandas to take oath as the acting chief justice and head the SJC.

He said the law ministry would have to issue another notification and Justice Baghwandas would have to be administered oath as the acting chief justice when he returned to the country.

Former chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah said it was the discretionary power of the SJC to amend and relax the rules to allow an open trial as sought by Justice Chaudhry, who was still the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

He said the SJC was not a court, but an accountability arm of the judiciary. He said it would hold an inquiry into the charges levelled in the presidential reference and send its report to the president. Asked if the recommendation of the SJC would be binding on the president, he said this had become irrelevant as the intent of the president was very clear and he was a complainant himself. “He will be more than happy if the report of the SJC is against Justice Chaudhry,” Justice Shah remarked. He said the inquiry report of the council was submitted under advisory jurisdiction.

Answering a question, he said Article 180 of the constitution was very clear and only the senior-most judge after the chief justice could be appointed as the acting CJ.

Referring to reports about complaints pending against some members of the SJC, he said they could not sit as members if the information was correct.Justice Shah said the SJC could implead outsiders as party in the proceedings if it felt the need.

Former chief justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui said the SJC had all the powers to decide about open proceedings. “There is no embargo on open proceedings.”

He, however, rejected the objections against the composition of the council, saying that Justice Baghwandas was not in Pakistan and there were reports that he would not be coming back until March 23-24.

He said Justice Baghwandas would take over as the acting chief justice when he returned.

Justice Siddiqui said he was unaware of pending complaints of misuse of authority and misconduct against members of the SJC.

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