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Tuesday May 28, 2024

IHC judges letter: CJP hints at forming full court in suo motu case

The court held that there would be no compromise on the independence of the judiciary

By Arshad Dogar & Awais Yousafzai & Shakeel Anjum & Sohail Khan
April 04, 2024
A seven-member SC bench headed by CJP Qazi Faez Isa hears the suo motu notice on IHC judges letter on  April 3, 2024. — Screengrab/YouTube/Supreme Court of Pakistan
A seven-member SC bench headed by CJP Qazi Faez Isa hears the suo motu notice on IHC judges' letter on  April 3, 2024. — Screengrab/YouTube/Supreme Court of Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday hinted at constituting a full court for hearing the suo motu case on the Islamabad High Court (IHC) judges’ letter and ruled that there would be no compromise on the independence of the judiciary.

A seven-member larger SC bench, headed by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa, Wednesday resumed preliminary hearing in the suo motu taken the other day on the IHC judges’ letter regarding the alleged interference of intelligence agencies in judicial affairs. Other members of the bench included Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Yahya Afridi, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel, Justice Musarat Hilali and Justice Naeem Akhtar Afgan.

The court held that there would be no compromise on the independence of the judiciary. “Our order today is that we will not tolerate any threat or interference; let us work, there will be zero tolerance regarding independence of judiciary,” CJP Faez Isa remarked.

He said the letter was being taken very seriously and the real issue is to conduct an inquiry and bring out the facts. “But who should do this? The commission, police, FIA, or the agencies,” the CJP raised a question, adding that the court might have formed a commission in the past, but it was the government’s job and not the SC to form an inquiry commission under the Constitution.

The CJP said it was wrong to think that the Supreme Court (SC) had given its powers to the government or the commission, adding that they could not do everything. The chief justice said if an interference was made in a judge’s work, he should initiate contempt proceedings, adding that neither the permission of the Supreme Court nor the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) was required in this regard. “I cannot use the power of contempt of court of any other court; the court which is in contempt will use this power itself,” the CJP remarked, adding that they have never prohibited any judge from taking contempt of court action.

On March 25, six IHC judges demanded the chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) convene a judicial convention to consider the interference of intelligence operatives into judicial functions or intimidation of judges in a manner that undermined the independence of judiciary. Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kiyani, Justice Babar Sattar, Justice Arbab Muhammad Tahir, Justice Tariq Mahmood Jehangiri, Justice Sardar Ejaz Ishaq Khan and Justice Saman Rifat Imtiaz sought guidance from the SJC about the duty of a judge to report and respond to actions on part of members of the executive, including operatives of intelligence agencies that seek to interfere with the discharge of his/her official functions and qualify as intimidation, as well as the duty to report any such actions that come to his/her attention concerning colleagues and/or members of the courts that the high court supervises.

Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah observed that the IHC judges were very respectable and it was the apex court’s duty to set some parameters for the independence of the judiciary. “We cannot ignore this important issue by burying our heads in the sand like ostriches,” Justice Mansoor remarked, adding that the protection of a civil judge, who is under pressure, should be thoroughly investigated. “We have to resolve this serious matter by giving an institutional response so that in future it could not happen again,” Justice Shah remarked.

Justice Mansoor further observed that the high court had its powers, adding that they did not say that they were interfering in the high court’s affairs. “But it is to examine when the high court is not exercising its own powers, then what could we do,” he added.

Qazi Faez Isa said since he became the chief justice of Pakistan, no one could say that his work had been interfered with. He said two full court meetings were held, adding that they could not call the prime minister in the court as he had immunity in the Constitution. “There will be no compromise; it is not our job to disrespect anyone; on the one side is the parliament, on the other is president and on the third side is the government,” the CJP remarked, adding that the apex court respected everyone and expected respect from everyone; it would not do wrong things. Justice Athar Minallah remarked that everyone knew what was happening, but everyone was giving the impression that nothing was happening.

Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan assured the court that all possible support would be extended from the federal government to investigate the matter and submitted that the reputation of the judiciary on the one hand and the administration on the other was at risk. Addressing the attorney general, Justice Athar Minallah said the prosecution had the authority of the administration. “You cannot stand here and issue a statement; it has to be taken to its logical end. There has been political engineering in the country and there is also a political issue about this court,” he remarked.

Referring to the contents of the letter, the SC judge said the judges pointed towards political engineering. “Political engineering has been going on in the country and the Supreme Court has also been involved.” The SC judge added that the court cannot close its eyes as “a lot is happening”. “All this has been going on since 2017, let’s not open the past,” said Justice Minallah.

CJP Isa, intervening in the matter, said the case might be heard by a full court in future. He further added that the IHC judges, in the letter, mentioned that they referred their issue to their chief justice, but he hadn’t done anything. “The high court has its own powers; why is the chief justice not using them,” he remarked. The CJP said the apex court did not want to interfere in the matters of the high court but could make it aware of its powers.

Justice Naeem Akhtar Afgan observed that there was a contradiction in the stance of the Attorney General, adding that there should be no contradiction in words and actions; 3 MPO should not be resorted to nullify the court orders. Addressing the AGP, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel said there was a reference some time ago which was dismissed by the Supreme Court; the then prime minister admitted that he made a mistake and the reference was made to him. Did they find out who had made that mistake and why? Was it not a case of interference in this court? Ask the prime minister of that time what it was and why.

Earlier, when the court resumed hearing, Hamid Khan came to the rostrum and said that the Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA) had filed a petition and it should be heard along with the case. CJP Faez Isa, however, observed that gone were the days when the chief justice did what he wanted, adding that now there was a three-member committee that decided the cases, and the committee could not use the authority of the court. “The court should not exercise the authority of the committee,” the CJP remarked adding that it was inappropriate that the petition was published in the media before it was filed; that was also a way to put pressure on the court. “But, at least, I am not under pressure, a new thing nowadays,” the CJP remarked, adding that lawyers who were saying to take suo motu notice should leave the practice of law. “We will not take pressure, we are working administratively, we did not hold a meeting at home secretly with the executive,” the CJP said, adding that they met in an administrative capacity.

Advocate Ahmed Hussain, counsel for Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, said they had also filed a similar petition. The CJP asked the AGP to read the press release of the Supreme Court. The CJ said that they took the fastest action on the letter, received the letter on March 26 and on the same day met the chief justice and all the judges of the Islamabad High Court in the presence of the most senior judge, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, and consulted for two-and-a-half hours. Then a full court meeting was called, and the issue was raised with the prime minister at the administrative level, “we held a regular meeting in the Supreme Court”.

AGP Mansoor Usman told the court that the federal government had not taken any initiative for the inquiry itself; the Supreme Court approved two names Nasirul Mulk and Tassaduq Jilani. He said after the terms of reference (ToRs) were decided in the cabinet meeting, Tassaduq Hussain Jilani was asked again, and then the name was announced. CJP Faiz Isa said, “We have suggested such names on which the finger should be raised as little as possible”. The CJP said strange things were started on social media about the former chief justice, adding that “attacks were started on the man whom we nominated for the commission”.

The CJP, however, said strange things were said about them on social media. “I felt very ashamed. “Where are we going; if you have any disagreement, you could write, you could write to your bodies,” the CJP remarked, adding that Tassaduq Jilani is a gentleman, he will not answer, he was a gentleman. “I believe in democracy and since I have become the chief justice, I have said that we should work within our constitutional limits,” the CJP said adding that they did not have the authority to form a commission in the Constitution.

The CJP said the authority to form a commission was given to the government. The AGP raised the issue of vlog and threats to kill him (Qazi Faez Isa) and said that when his wife went to the police station for an FIR, the FIR was not filed, but the matter was handed over to the FIA and the FIA registered a case under the PICA Act. The AGP continued that Justice Qazi’s wife named Mirza Shahzad Akbar and General Faiz Hameed in her statement, but after that the matter was shelved and the two chief justices retired. “This will not be done in the case of this letter; the federal government is not ready to compromise on the independence of judiciary,” the AGP submitted and also mentioned the creation of a JIT and the appointment of a monitoring judge by the court in the past.

The CJP said he would take action on interference in judicial matters only when a complaint was received from a judge, adding that since he became the chief justice, no complaint had come from anyone. Justice Jamal Mandokhel said the past should be forgotten, adding that they were looking at the issue for the first time; it should be considered as a good opportunity.

Meanwhile, the CJP said the court should be given written guidelines on issues raised adding that maybe the full court would hear the case. The CJP said today seven judges were available in Islamabad and “we heard the case” adding that all judges may be available on April 29 or 30. Later, the court adjourned the hearing.

Meanwhile, after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) jurists, letters containing suspicious powdery substance and threatening messages have also been posted to the SC judges, including CJP Qazi Faez Isa, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Operations confirmed before the IHC top judge. “Four Supreme Court judges have also received such letters,” DIG Operation apprised IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq, who was conducting a hearing of the cipher case. The police officer was summoned to the rostrum by the IHC top judge during the hearing and questioned about Tuesday’s event of letters to the judges.

It emerged that the judges who received such posts on April 1 include CJP Isa, Justice Athar Minallah, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel and Justice Aminuddin Khan. Additionally, a letter was also received by the top court senior most Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, which was posted by a woman namely Gul Shad, sources added. The letters have been handed over to the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD).

During the hearing, the DIG Operations told the high court that all envelopes containing letters and the powdery substance had been sent for analysis to the lab. Moreover, the Police Department also wrote to the post master general to question why they cannot read a stamp properly. The police officer also confirmed that the Lahore High Court (LHC) judges had also received such letters on Wednesday.

The IHC chief justice questioned the officer regarding steps the police department had taken alongside the analysis of letters: did they get any CCTV footage and from which post office the letters were sent. The DIG Operations said that it seemed the stamp was from an area in Rawalpindi. A CTD officer also apprised the court that the letter was sent from the General Post Office Rawalpindi as per initial investigation and the letters had reached the GPO through a letter box.

Detailing the sender’s name, some of the letters were sent by a person namely Resham, while others were posted by using another name, Reshma. The IHC CJ reprimanded the police officers for not being able to read the postal stamp so far.

Meanwhile, the CTD, initiating the investigation of the mysterious letters, made headway on Wednesday and disclosed that all 10 letters were posted from the post office in the jurisdiction of Satellite Town Rawalpindi. “The way of investigation is very tricky and problematic as the people with motive to create fear amongst the judiciary played carefully and left no clear evidence behind,” an investigator said.

The CTD lodged the first information report (FIR) under Section 7 of the Anti-terrorist Act (ATA) and 507 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) against unknown radicals involved in hurling threats through letters, laced with anthrax powder to five SC judges including the CJP Qazi Faez Isa.

Mohammad Iqbal Khan complained to the CTD police, saying that he was attached to the R&I Branch of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. On March 29 and 30, 2024, clerk Sakhawat Shah received letters through normal mail in the name of CJP and three other judges of the apex court. The letters were forwarded to secretaries through an official. On April 3, Admin In-charge Khurram Shahzad informed him that four envelopes received in normal mail addressed to CJP Qazi Faez Isa and three other judges were laced with white power of anthrax. The complainant said the unaddressed letters were sent from Mst Gulshad Khatoon, daughter of Bhoran Khan, while one of the letters was posted by Sajjad Hussain, son of Ghulam Abbas.

The SC administration called the police and CTD officials and handed over the mysterious letters to the CTD with the white powder, which was sent for chemical examination to confirm the kind of powder.

Meanwhile, a case was also registered over threatening letters contaminated with suspicious powder despatched to senior LHC judges. Additional IG CTD Waseem Siyal said case number 13/24 had been registered under the Terrorism Act and other provisions in the CTD police station. The CTD and Investigation Crime Scene Team jointly started the investigation. The letters were handed over to the Punjab Science Forensic Agency, told Additional IG CTD Waseem Siyal. He said the accused would be traced soon and brought to justice.