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Govt to place IHC judges’ letter before cabinet tomorrow for formation of inquiry commission

25 min read

ISLAMABAD: Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar on Thursday said that the federal government would place a letter from six judges of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) alleging interference in judicial affairs by the country’s intelligence apparatus for consideration before the federal cabinet to constitute an inquiry commission.

Tarar was addressing a press conference in Islamabad following a meeting today between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa.

Earlier in the day, PM Shehbaz met CJP Isa at the Supreme Court, Radio Pakistan reported. Tarar and Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan were also present during the meeting, according to the state broadcaster.

Legal experts highlighted that the meeting was far from ordinary, and differed significantly from a past interaction between former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and former CJP Saqib Nisar when the two were in office.

After the meeting, CJP Isa summoned a second full court meeting in as many days, correspondent Abdullah Momand confirmed.

The developments come a day after the apex court held a full court meeting to take stock of allegations levelled by six IHC judges — out of a total strength of eight — against interference in judicial affairs by the country’s intelligence apparatus.

An informed source told that yesterday’s sitting considered initiating suo motu proceedings under Article 184(3) of the Constitution in light of the letter, but no final decision was taken in this regard. AGP Awan also met CJP Isa on Wednesday and in an interaction with the media, described the situation as “very alarming”, which needed a thorough probe.

Speaking after the meeting between the premier and the top judge, the law minister said that foremostly, there was a need to investigate the matter, adding it was decided that the government would place the judges’ letter before Friday’s federal cabinet session and the prime minister would strive for a neutral, non-partisan and retired legal personality to be requested to head an inquiry commission and submit a report after investigating in accordance with the law.

He added that the premier also reassured that it was the government’s duty to ensure an investigation into the matter and that such allegations, if they were true, did not reoccur in the future.

“The prime minister point-blank said there will be no compromise on the independence of the judiciary.”

The minister explained that he and the AGP would work on the initial terms of reference for the inquiry commission, adding that they would include a probe for not only the current controversy but also past events as far as the law or cabinet allowed.

He further said that it was inappropriate to mention the names initially under consideration to head the commission since the cabinet had the authority over the matter. Tarar said the body would be notified in two to four days after Friday’s cabinet session.

The law minister said that CJP Isa had also agreed to the formation of an inquiry commission. He explained that there was already a mechanism present to investigate such matters which the federal government carried out and thus it was better for a commission to investigate it instead of a suo motu notice.

On a question about whether the letter amounted to misconduct from the judges, Tarar said the answer to this should come from the commission.

Tarar said the letter from the six IHC judges mentioned events “from the last year [and] with a regime which is no longer in the judicial corridors”, adding that most of the allegations in the letter concerned the “tenure of the former chief justice of Pakistan”.

He said CJP Isa had expressed a wish for the prime minister to have a talk with him on the matter and the latter had readily agreed to prioritise the issue over all others due to the seriousness of the development.

Tarar said the meeting’s participants discussed the matter, as well as other important national affairs such as tax-related issues and fiscal matters.

“There was a discussion on different aspects of the matter [at hand] considering its seriousness and it was also discussed that this has not happened for the first time and such voices have been raised before in history as well,” the minister said, referring to the case of former IHC judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui.

The law minister said that PM Shehbaz also reassured that Pakistan was a constitutional organism in which all institutions performed their roles while remaining within their domains.

“The premier reassured the chief justice and his judges that institutional interference should never happen and the government’s obligations in this regard will be fulfilled.”

Tarar said PM Shehbaz also expressed his expectation that the institutions would not transgress their constitutional boundaries and domains.

The law minister said that speaking for himself, it would have been better if the letter had come out in the term of the previous CJP since it concerned events from that timeframe and judicial regime.

Tarar said such matters should be transparently dealt with instead of being swept under the rug.

PTI rejects inquiry commission

The PTI’s Core Committee rejected the government’s move to make an inquiry commission.

The party said it “completely rejected” the move and would issue a detailed response later.

Meanwhile, former AGP Ashtar Ausaf told Geo News that he favoured a neutral inquiry commission to investigate the letter of the IHC judges.

“Forming an inquiry commission is the federal government’s authority, not the SJC’s,” the veteran lawyer added. “Why address the letter to the SJC? The council has no advisory jurisdiction and only monitors judges’ conduct and launches inquiries accordingly.”

He also questioned the need for the letter in the first place, saying that if there was any pressure on judges then they could have recused themselves or initiated contempt proceedings or mentioned it in their written verdicts.

Ausaf further said the prior letters making the same allegations must also be investigated in the inquiry. “This letter refers to older letters, including one by Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, which allege judicial interference. They should have been investigated.”

Referring to Siddiqui, Ausaf lamented that the legal fraternity should have united in solidarity with the former IHC senior judge.

“Had we rallied around Siddiqui then, we might not be dealing with this situation right now.”

He further said, “Siddiqui was exonerated after being persecuted for bringing the same allegations to light. If one is under pressure, they can approach the court or file a case. Great power lies within a court judgment.

“This matter is not related to the current government. The allegations were made before the current cabinet took office. Why did nobody write a letter to the government?”

The former AGP lamented that “nobody gains from this situation besides our enemies, who are laughing at us.”

PBC meeting on April 5

Chairman Executive Committee of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) Farooq H. Naek has summoned a meeting of the executive committee on April 5 to discuss the situation after the judges’ letter.

PBC Vice Chairman Riazat Ali Sahar and Farooq Naek on Wednesday called for a thorough investigation by a proper committee, comprising at least three senior judges of the Supreme Court and constituted by CJP Isa, since the allegations of interference and intimidation were significant.

The statement emphasised the immediate necessity for the council, as the principal representative body of the legal fraternity, to address the concerning issues outlined in a letter directed to the Supreme Judicial Council.

The missive, submitted by high court judges, brings to light allegations of interference, and intimidation on the part of executives and intelligence agencies, said the statement, adding the concerns were indeed “grave and warrant immediate attention”.

However, the correct competent authority to address these concerns is not the SJC but the CJP because the SJC under Article 209 is the forum to address the complaints against the judges of superior courts, the statement said. The statement said the letter depicted a troubling narrative of attempts to undermine the autonomy of the judiciary and influence judicial proceedings for political ends.

Particularly concerning are the incidents recounted, such as the alleged coercion of judges by operatives of intelligence agencies, including instances of surveillance, abduction, and intimidation directed at judges and their families, it added.

These actions, if proven true, represent a direct assault on the rule of law and the principles of justice that form the bedrock of any democratic society, the statement said.

On the other hand, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Shahzad Shaukat and Secretary Syed Ali Imran along with the 26th Executive Committee of the association, affirmed their commitment to the independence of the judiciary.

“Such issues should be addressed in a befitting manner and any apprehensions/misgivings which might be in the minds of the judges should be adequately addressed,” Shah­zad Shaukat said in reference to the alleged harassment meted out to the judges and their families.

Expressing unwavering support for the judiciary as an institution and for the IHC judges, the statement said that the SCBA would not tolerate any incidents aimed at undermining the independence and functioning of judicial institutions.

Letter by IHC judges

Earlier this week, the six judges wrote a startling letter to 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 addressed to SJC members — CJP Isa, Supreme Court Justices Mansoor Ali Shah and Munib Akhtar and IHC CJ Aamer Farooq and Peshawar High Court CJ Mohammad Ibrahim Khan — also questioned if there existed a state policy to “intimidate” and coerce judges.

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

The six judges also supported the demand of former IHC judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui for a probe into the allegations of interference by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) operatives.

It 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, ISI officials’ efforts 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.