On Sunday, a significant development unfolded as over 300 lawyers united to call upon the Supreme Court (SC) to intervene in response to allegations of interference in the judiciary by the intelligence apparatus. The lawyers emphasized the invocation of Article 184(3) of the Constitution, highlighting its provision enabling the SC to address matters of “public importance” pertaining to the enforcement of the fundamental rights of Pakistani citizens. They expressed skepticism regarding the efficacy of a government-led commission in investigating these claims, citing concerns over independence and investigative authority.

This call for action follows a shocking revelation on Tuesday, wherein six judges from the Islamabad High Court, constituting the majority of its total strength, penned a letter to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC). The letter detailed distressing accounts of attempts to coerce judges through the abduction and torture of their relatives, as well as clandestine surveillance within their residences. The judges who signed the letter include Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri, Babar Sattar, Sardar Ejaz Ishaq Khan, Arbab Muhammad Tahir, and Saman Rafat Imtiaz.

In response to mounting pressure for an inquiry, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa convened a full court meeting of SC judges. Subsequently, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif held discussions with CJP Isa, leading to the decision to establish a commission to investigate concerns of interference in judicial affairs. This decision gained further traction with the approval of the federal cabinet.

On Saturday, the federal cabinet formally sanctioned the formation of an inquiry commission headed by former CJP Tassaduq Hussain Jillani. The commission’s mandate encompasses investigating the veracity of the allegations, identifying any direct involvement of officials in judicial interference, and recommending appropriate actions against implicated agencies, departments, or state institutions. Furthermore, the commission has been granted the autonomy to explore additional matters deemed pertinent during the course of its inquiry.

Today, a coalition of over 300 lawyers from various regions of the country, including notable figures like Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir, Zainab Janjua, Abdul Moiz Jaferii, Salman Akram Raja, Taimur Malik, and Saqib Jillani, son of the ex-CJP tasked with the probe, issued a public statement. The comprehensive statement was disseminated across social media platforms, including X, by Mazari-Hazir and Janjua. It articulated their steadfast commitment to upholding the principles of the rule of law, judicial independence, and access to justice in response to the serious allegations raised by judges of the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

The statement endorsed the resolutions passed by various bar associations, including the Islamabad High Court Bar Association, the Islamabad Bar Association, the Sindh High Court Bar Association, the Pakistan Bar Council, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bar Council, and the Baluchistan Bar Council. These resolutions emphasized the paramount importance of maintaining judicial independence, expressed solidarity with the six judges of the IHC, commended their courageous stance, and called for appropriate actions to safeguard these principles.

Highlighting the recurrence of such allegations, the statement referenced the case of Justice (retired) Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, who previously raised similar concerns and was subsequently removed from office without due process. Additionally, the statement addressed the recent Supreme Court verdict on the murder trial of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, acknowledging the judiciary’s role while stressing the imperative for tangible steps towards addressing concerns of judicial independence and public perception.

Emphasizing the pivotal role of judges as guardians of fundamental rights and the integrity of the legal system, the statement underscored the detrimental impact of coercion and intimidation on the dispensation of justice. It called for urgent action from the Pakistan Bar Council and all bar associations to convene a convention of lawyers to collectively strategize and implement measures aimed at fortifying the independence of the judiciary. This unified effort seeks to uphold the sanctity of the legal system and restore public confidence in the judiciary as the cornerstone of the constitutional framework.

The statement also emphasized the urgency for the apex court to address the matter within its jurisdiction, invoking Article 184(3) of the Constitution, as it pertains significantly to public interest and the enforcement of fundamental rights. Stressing the importance of transparency, the statement urged for the proceedings to be conducted openly, considering that restoring public confidence in the independence of the judiciary is paramount.

In a bid to prevent politicization of the issue, the statement called upon the Supreme Court of Pakistan to constitute a bench comprising all available judges to oversee the matter, with proceedings broadcasted live for public scrutiny. It further advocated for a comprehensive inquiry that encompasses allegations raised in both the IHC letter and those by Siddiqui, holding accountable any executive officials found responsible for breaches.

Expressing dissatisfaction with the course of action taken thus far, the statement criticized the lack of consensus on constituting an inquiry commission following Wednesday’s full court meeting. It highlighted concerns regarding the efficacy and independence of such a commission, given the government’s control over its terms of reference, timeframe, and the potential release of its report.

The statement urged the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) to establish guidelines and recommended the Supreme Court, in collaboration with all high courts, to establish transparent institutional mechanisms to address attempts at undermining judicial independence effectively. Barrister Malik, a signatory who contested the February 8 general elections as a PTI-backed independent, noted Saqib Jillani, son of former CJP Jillani, as one of the early signatories, underscoring a shared commitment to legal reforms and the true independence of the judiciary despite differing political views.

The letter

Dated March 25th, the correspondence bore the signatures of IHC Justices Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri, Babar Sattar, Sardar Ejaz Ishaq Khan, Arbab Muhammad Tahir, and Saman Rafat Imtiaz. It outlined seven instances of purported interference and intimidation aimed at influencing case outcomes, allegedly orchestrated by intelligence officials. Specifically, it detailed pressure exerted on judges, notably during a plea involving PTI leader Imran Khan, where operatives of the ISI allegedly coerced dissenting judges through acquaintances. The distressing situation escalated to the point where one judge required hospitalization due to high blood pressure. Despite assurances from the IHC chief justice and the former CJP that no further interference would occur, the letter lamented the persistence of such actions.

Further accounts included the abduction of an IHC judge’s brother-in-law by individuals claiming affiliation with the ISI, who coerced false accusations against the judge through physical and psychological coercion. Additionally, reports surfaced of intimidation directed at district court judges, and instances of surveillance within judges’ official residences, revealing private videos stored without consent. Despite these alarming revelations, accountability remained elusive, with no conclusive determination on the perpetrators or appropriate actions taken.

Accompanying their plea to the SJC were copies of letters penned on May 10, 2023, and February 12, 2024, detailing further complaints, including efforts to pressure judges and probe tax records. The judges underscored the urgent need to investigate whether such incidents were part of a broader executive policy implemented by intelligence agencies to intimidate the judiciary.

Despite past actions providing relief to former judge Justice Siddiqui, the judges stressed the insufficiency of such measures. They pointed out the absence of specific provisions in the SJC’s code of conduct for judges to address incidents undermining judicial independence, advocating for a judicial convention to address intelligence officials’ interference. This collective discussion, they argued, would assist the Supreme Court in formulating a response to safeguard judicial independence in the face of intimidation.


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