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ISLAMABAD, April 3: As the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) reserved its judgment on holding an open hearing, the charged atmosphere outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday forced a senior government counsel to excuse himself from pursuing the reference against Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.

“Further proceedings have been adjourned for April 13,” said Advocate Tariq Mehmood, who is representing the chief justice, after attending the SJC meeting. He said the council during three and a half hours of proceedings mainly discussed the request of Justice Chaudhry for an open hearing.

Open trials were always considered to be fair in the world, said the chief justice’s counsel Hamid Khan, who briefed journalists later.

The attorney-general and Senator Khalid Ranjha, a member of the team representing the government, opposed an open trial and referred to different provisions of the constitution, relevant rules and the case law on the subject, Mr Khan said.

They also relied on two previous SJC cases – of Justice Ikhlaque Hussain in 1960 and Justice Shaukat Ali in 1971 -- but explained that in the case of Justice Ali the respondent had requested the SJC to hold in-camera proceedings.

However, Dr Ranjha had to excuse himself from attending further proceedings.

“I have submitted before the SJC in writing my inability to pursue the case in such a situation,” he told Dawn after he was abused and roughed up by some lawyers.

As Dr Ranjha appeared in the Supreme Court lobby after the proceedings, a group of junior lawyers termed him a traitor for allegedly becoming a tool in the hands of the government to hurt the judiciary.

Dr Ranjha complained in his application that he had been abused and stated that it was the responsibility of the Supreme Court to provide security to every lawyer.

“If the chief justice enjoys the right to be represented through his counsel then the other side also enjoys the same right,” he said.

The chief justice made his first appearance before the changed council now presided over by Justice Rana Bhagwandas, who has replaced Justice Javed Iqbal as the acting Chief Justice.

Like the previous occasions, he appeared to attend the council meeting in the company of his lawyers amidst a warm reception by lawyers and workers of political parties.

Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar of the Supreme Court, Lahore High Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Hussain Chaudhry and Sindh High Court Chief Justice Sabihuddin Ahmed are the other members of the SJC.

Justice Chaudhry was represented by Barrister Aitezaz Ahsan, Tariq Mehmood and Hamid Khan. Advocates Munir A. Malik, Ali Ahmed Kurd and Qazi Anwar could not attend the proceedings. Attorney-General Makhdoom Ali Khan appeared on the council’s notice.

Apart from Dr Ranjha, other members of government’s team are: Wasim Sajjad, Raja Qureshi, Amaullah Kirnani, Raja Abdul Rehman and Chaudhry Arif.

The SJC decided to hear on April 13 other preliminary legal objections raised by Justice Chaudhry.

In his statement, Justice Chaudhry had objected to the presence of the LHC chief justice in the council on the grounds that references of misconduct were pending against him before the SJC. Justice Dogar was also facing a reference before the SJC regarding misappropriation in the Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai University, Khairpur, he had alleged.

Online adds: Addressing a joint press conference at the Press Information Department, the legal team representing the government — Senator Waseem Sajjad, Dr Khalid Ranjha, Abdul Rehman, Arif Chaudhry and Amanullah Kundi — said they would only pursue the presidential reference further if provided with adequate assurances.

Senator Waseem Sajjad condemned the manhandling of advocate Khalid Ranjha, saying that this was quite unbecoming. In response to a query, Dr Ranjha declined to name the lawyer involved in the manhandling affair.

The legal team said no application had been filed with police regarding the manhandling issue.

Dr Ranjha said he had informed the Supreme Judicial Council about his withdrawal from the case and had aired his security concerns. He said he would appear before the council on April 13.

He added that being a lawyer he had the legal right to pursue any case and no one could criticise that. When asked whether they didn’t feel upset about the manhandling of Chief Justice the government’s legal team replied that they felt very upset at that incident as well.