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Sunday May 28, 2023

Supreme Court suspends notification of audio leak commission's formation

Top court also stays commission's proceedings; next hearing on May 31

May 26, 2023
A general view of Pakistans Supreme Court in Islamabad on April 6, 2022.  — AFP
A general view of Pakistan's Supreme Court in Islamabad on April 6, 2022.  — AFP

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court Friday suspended the notification of Justice Qazi Faez Isa-led audio leak commission's formation and also stayed its proceedings.

The order was issued by a five-member SC bench headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi and Justice Shahid Waheed.

The bench issued the order while hearing separate petitions filed by Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Abid Shahid Zuberi, SCBA Secretary Muqtedir Akhtar Shabbir, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan and Advocate Riaz Hanif Rahi requesting to declare the commission's formation illegal. 

The order noted that the SCBA president's lawyer pointed out the commission had already started functioning and issued an order on May 22 that its proceedings would be made public. The commission's next meeting was scheduled for May 27 (tomorrow).

"In the circumstances, till the next date of hearing, the operation of the impugned notification No.SRO.596(I)/2023 dated 19.05.2023 issued by the Federal Government is suspended as is the order dated 22.05.2023 made by the Commission and in consequence thereof proceedings of the Commission are stayed," it stated.  

The federal government had last week constituted a judicial commission to probe the veracity of recent audio leaks and their impact on the independence of the judiciary.

The government constituted a three-member judicial commission, headed by a senior judge of the Supreme Court Justice Qazi Faez Isa and comprising Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Balochistan High Court Chief Justice Naeem Akhtar Afghan.

The government said the audio leaks raised serious apprehensions about the independence of the judiciary in the public interest; therefore, it has constituted the commission under Section 3 of the Pakistan Commissions of the Inquiry Act, 2017.

Strong remarks

During the hearing earlier in the day, Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan requested the CJP to recuse himself from the case and leave the matter to the next senior-most judge.

"It is requested that the chief justice should not be a part of this bench," AGP Awan said.

Responding to the AGP, CJP Bandial said: "You should not interfere with our administrative authority."

The top Supreme Court judge added that while he respects the request made by Awan, the post of the chief justice is constitutional.

"I knew you would raise this objection. The judiciary is not subservient to the government. There is a division of authority in the Constitution," he remarked.

The country's top judge also lamented the government’s "hasty" decision to enact legislation regulating the chief justice's powers.

"How can the government use judges for its own motives," CJP Bandial asked the AGP.

CJP Bandial also questioned the formation of the judicial panel without his consultation. He said that while consulting the chief justice is not mentioned in the Inquiry Commission Act 1956, it is a "practice" for the CJP to nominate a judge for the commission.

"Three such notifications were withdrawn previously when the chief justice was not approached. Five decisions of the Supreme Court also exist in this regard," the CJP said.

Audio leaks to be probed

The commission was notified to investigate the following audio leaks:

  • Call between former Punjab chief minister and an advocate about fixation of some cases before a particular SC bench.
  • Call between former Punjab chief minister and a sitting apex court judge.
  • Call between former chief justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar and a senior lawyer.
  • Call between a lawyer and a journalist on the outcome of a case before a particular SC bench.
  • Call between former prime minister Khan and his party colleague about their links in the apex court.
  • Call between mother-in-law of CJP Umar Ata Bandial and wife of a lawyer regarding SC cases and conversation about an un-constitutional rule.
  • Call between ex-CJP Nisar’s son Najam Saqib and his friend mentioning his father in a political role.