Thursday June 01, 2023

Another member writes to JCP over audio release, insists on vote-taking before suddenly ending meetings

Senior advocate of SC also insisted against need for releasing audio of meeting held on July 28

By Web Desk
August 05, 2022
Front facade of the Supreme Court of Pakistans building in Islamabad. — AFP/File
Front facade of the Supreme Court of Pakistan's building in Islamabad. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of the Pakistan (SC) and member Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP) Akhtar Hussain — who represents the Pakistan Bar Council — on Friday wrote a letter to the commission with reference to a meeting held on July 28.

Hussain’s letter comes after the SC released a press release and the meeting’s audio clarifying the stance of members concerning the elevation of judges to the superior judiciary.

The JCP has so far received letters from members including Justice Qazi Faiz Isa, Justice Sardar Tariq Masood,  Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, and the Attorney-General for Pakistan Ashtar Ausaf.

In his letter, Hussain maintains that the “writing of such letters and the issuance of press releases and audio proceedings of the commission’s meeting should not have been necessary”. 

The advocate added that if the meeting, held on July 28, had not been “abruptly terminated and a formal vote and final decision been recorded” in the meeting minutes toward the end, the occasion to publicise the proceedings may not have arisen.

He insisted that it is crucial that the commission’s meeting must end with a formal vote-taking process and that it is likely for judges to rethink their judgements after listening to others’ opinions during the selection of candidates and other matters discussed in the meeting.

The letter also seconds Justice Sajjad Ali Shah’s stance mentioning the likelihood of the meeting’s discussions “harming the reputation of judges” in the run for elevation to the SC and that the deliberations of the meetings should remain confidential in order to “strike a balance between the desire for a free and frank exchange of views regarding candidates whilst protecting the reputations of those who are discussed”.

“I feel it was all the more necessary to consult with all members of the Judicial Commission before deciding to release the audio recordings in relaxation of the rules,” advocate Hussain’s letter read, adding that following the AGP’s letter and JCP’s press released by the Supreme Court, the events that followed were uncalled for.

Hussain also mentioned that the majority of the commission did not decide to defer the meeting and that apart from the AGP, the only other person who proposed to defer the meeting was the Chief Justice himself.

The SC advocate went on to write about the need to amend JCP’s rules, in addition to frame more objective, transparent, and measurable criteria and processes for the nomination and appointment of judges.

“There is also a clear majority for adhering to seniority principle until this process is completed and also for allowing all Commission members to propose nominees for an appointment rather than the Chief Justice alone,” he wrote in the letter.

The advocate requested that the rule-making committee should be initiated under the chairmanship of the senior puisne judge "with a clear mandate to solicit the views of all stakeholders and devise draft rules and criteria for appointments for the approval of the commission within four."

Advocate Hussain emphasised that the proceedings and decisions of the JCP should be a deliberative, collective and collegiate exercise. He added that decisions by members should be collectively made.

“The fierce and evident divisions that have cropped up within the judicial institution are not in the national interest,” he wrote concluding the letter.

Audio and deferment controversy

The Supreme Court, on July 30, justified its statement and issued an audit of the Judicial Commission of Pakistan’s (JCP) meeting held on July 28 for the elevation of five judges. The court held that the audio recording from time slot 1:29:45 to 1:38:08 contains the statement by the worthy AGP that the matters under discussion should be deferred to frame the appropriate rules.

“He did not assess or reject the merits of any of the High Court judges proposed for appointment to the SCP. As a result, five members of the JCP supported the deferment of the meeting as reported in the press note of July 28,” says the statement issued by Supreme Court Public Relations Department.

The court further said that the version issued by its Public Relations Officer under the instructions of the Chief Justice of Pakistan/Chairman, Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP) meeting has been disputed by two judges of the SCP, namely, Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Sardar Tariq Masood. It further stated that a resulting controversy has therefore arisen in the print and electronic media.