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ISLAMABAD, July 2: A visibly disturbed and angry Supreme Court bench on Monday severely criticised government lawyers and suspended the licence of the state-appointed advocate-on-record after finding some highly ‘scandalous’ material both against the chief justice as well as judges in the presidential reference placed before the apex court by the federation’s counsel.

So upset were the 13 honourable judges who form the larger bench hearing identical constitutional petitions challenging the reference against Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry that they dealt only with issue of scandalous material and adjourned the regular hearing till Tuesday.

But before doing so, the court suspended advocate-on-record Chaudhry Akhtar Ali from practising and referred his case to the Pakistan Bar Council for cancellation of his licence, ordered contempt of court proceedings against him and issued a show-cause notice to the law secretary on being informed that the reference material had been prepared by him.Although the court accepted an unconditional apology by senior government lawyer Malik Mohammad Qayyum, it indicated further action against people found responsible for maligning the superior judiciary in such a manner.

Through yet another unprecedented court order, the bench banned the unauthorised access to intelligence operatives inside superior courts’ offices, and also instructed the director-general of the Intelligence Bureau to sweep the Supreme Court and residences of all judges for bugging devices. At the same time, the court asked the IB chief to file a sworn affidavit that such premises have been cleared of all such bugging gadgets in a week.

On being informed by CJ’s counsel Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan about the presence of some ‘scandalous and vexatious’ documents and photographs of CJ’s residence, the entire bench appeared disturbed and decided to briefly put off the hearing, but only after specifically instructing government’s lawyers that they would like to know about the people directly responsible for collecting and making such material part of the presidential reference.

The top government lawyers were quick to disassociate themselves from the contents of the reference, leaving their junior colleague Chaudhry Akhtar Ali to bear the brunt as he was directly responsible for submitting the reference before the court on their behalf.

When the hearing resumed after a brief gap, the atmosphere in the packed Courtroom No-1 looked tense. It was certainly not the best of days for veteran government lawyers like Sharifuddin Pirzada, retired justice Malik Qayyum or, for that matter, Attorney General Makhdoom Ali Khan.

Even most other lawyers and journalists present in the courtroom got tense and anxious as no-one was sure what actions were in store for those found guilty of the act.

Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday, who often mixes his scholarly knowledge of law and constitution with an amazing sense of humour, was visibly the most disturbed of the 13 judges. And he did not hide his feelings when he described it as one of the most disgraceful occurrences in which the president’s name had been used by a few to malign judges of the Supreme Court.

“Forget about us,” he said, “we are becoming quite used to such things.” And with the advocate-on-record and other government lawyers listening with their heads down, Justice Ramday went on to say: “What message you will convey to the world about the president, about the head of state, because you maligned him, you have done all this in his name, (and) he may not be knowing what you are filing.”

As the senior counsel for the federation, retired Justice Qayyum tried to explain his own position and justify his ignorance about the material by stating that he had to fly off on the day it had been filed, Justice Ramday instructed him not to say anything further. “It’s very easy for everyone to say that they were not there.”

A couple of other judges were equally annoyed with the development, and while addressing the Chaudhry Akhtar one of them remarked that when it came to such crucial issues, no-one seemed to come forward to take responsibility.

The court also restrained the presence of intelligence agencies inside the Supreme Court as well as four high courts with an observation that despite repeated objections by the senior counsel for the CJ that intelligence agencies were swarming this court and were persistently spying on the judges of the Supreme Court and high courts in the country and were prying into their private matters the court had been ignoring in view of the pendency of serious and delicate proceedings.

“However, after going through the documents filed with the material (Civil Miscellaneous Application 2073 of 2007) in question, we now feel compelled as having been left with no option but to command that no un-authorised person, including the officials of intelligence agencies of whichever department of the state, shall enter the office of this court or of the high courts in the country; that no one shall seek access to any record of this court, including the high courts, nor shall any official of the said courts, if so requested, supply any document or information or even show or make available any document or record of any court of law to such officials or un-authorised persons.

“The registrar of this court is ordered to ensure compliance of this order and likewise the registrars of the respective high courts shall ensure compliance thereof within their respective courts,” the order said.

It was further ordered that the registrar concerned shall be personally responsible and liable for any deviation or non-compliance of the order.

Justice Ramday also dismissed the Civil Miscellaneous Application as withdrawn but imposed a fine of Rs100,000 on the federation with a direction that the entire amount be donated for the flood-affected people of Balochistan in a week.

Chaudhry Akhtar Ali told the bench that he had been asked by the law secretary to submit the material before the court immediately because Malik Qayyum had to rely on this evidence to advance his arguments. “That is why I could not find time to read the documents thoroughly,” he added.

The court directed the filing of a complaint against him with the Pakistan Bar Council under section 41 of the Bar Councils Act. “Since the AoR prima facie is guilty of misconduct or a conduct unbecoming of an advocate, his licence to practise is suspended under section 54 of the Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act 1973 and Rule 30, Order IV of the Supreme Court Rules 1980,” the order said.A show-cause notice was also issued for having scandalised the court and maligning its judges.

“This court is a source of bread-earner for you and, therefore, you should not disgrace it,” Justice Mohammad Nawaz Abbasi observed.

On pictures of the official residence of the CJ also appended with the annexure as part of the evidence and described by Barrister Ahsan as a blatant and disgraceful display of robbing the privacy of homes, more so when the home was that of the CJ, Malik Qayyum said the law secretary was finding the whereabouts of the photographer who had taken the pictures and would inform the court about it on Tuesday.

Justice Ramday asked Malik Qayyum to prove the veracity of the documents, deploring that the counsel was filing documents without reading them.

“This is the kind of responsibility you are showing to the court,” Justice Ramday deplored.

“This is not a case of Mohammad Din or Allah Ditta but involved the president, who is the symbol of the federation, and the CJ, who is the head of the judiciary,” Justice Ramday observed and added that no-body bothered to notice that judges were being maligned in these documents.

“Now we know your intention,” Justice Ramday said. “You want to scandalise and malign the court and the judges.”

“We will deal with it and will not let it go unnoticed or unpunished,” Justice Ramday said.