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Friday July 12, 2024

Investigate the leaks

By Editoial Board
May 28, 2023

With leaks upon leaks upon leaks, some involving the highest judiciary of the land itself, last week the federal government had formed a three-member judicial commission led by Justice Qazi Faez Isa to probe the authenticity of the recent audio leaks and the impact on the independence of the judiciary. The commission, formed under Section 3 of the Inquiry Commission Act 2017, included Balochistan High Court Chief Justice Naeem Akhtar Afghan and Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Aamer Farooq. The news hadn't settled in yet when on Friday the Supreme Court stayed the proceedings of this high-powered judicial commission. It also suspended the federal government’s notification on the commission’s constitution. 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.

As has now become almost routine, even this is not where things have ended though – as Justice Qazi Faez Isa has raised questions over the SC order stopping the judicial panel from working and on Saturday resumed the proceedings of the audio leaks commission. Regardless of the current fissures within the higher judiciary, there is one question that Justice Isa asks that really needs a clean answer: if an audio leak is concerned with alleged unsavoury practices by a judge, then how can an investigation into that be delayed? On its part, the government says it formed the commission after there was pressure from the law bars and civil society that the top judiciary should not be maligned through these alleged ‘leaks’. And so it was decided that only an investigation by a judicial commission could ascertain the veracity of these audio leaks and determine whether there was any truth to them or not. None of this, however, can or should take away from the fact that recording people’s phones, or tapping their phones, or in any other way infringing upon an individual’s right to privacy is illegal, immoral, and cannot ever be condoned. The epidemic of leaks that we are confronted with at the moment is essentially a real insight into the state of our state. That said, now that they are a reality and in the public domain, there is no justifiable reason for them not to be investigated.

The SC’s Friday order has also not gone down very well with the PML-N, its leader Maryam Nawaz in her usual unrelenting way sparing few words when it comes to what she sees as a biased chief justice. Legal experts have pointed out that it is essential that this perception that the judiciary is somehow not interested in an investigation into audio leaks related to peer judges should be dispelled. While a case could have been made that the stay by the CJP on a commission formed by the government was about the judiciary not wanting the government to intrude into its domain, why would the the SC – the CJP – not call a meeting of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) when these audios, especially the one related to a fellow judge, were leaked? That was the time for an investigation to start. We reiterate time and again that in a country with such little faith in the ’system’ it is important for the judiciary to be transparent and accountable if and when such leaks materialize. The judiciary’s job is to dispense justice. If there is any perception that a judge has allegedly taken anything from an accused or shows leniency to the accused due to any favour, there should be proper investigation into the matter. This is no ordinary allegation. Instead of making a spectacle of the top court where one bench stays a commission while the commission – also judges – says it has no authority to do so, the judiciary should resolve this issue and initiate investigation into these alleged audio leaks. The government or the political parties will then have no excuse to go around pointing fingers at or sloganeering against one senior judge or the other.