Supreme Court suspends govt order to form judicial commission on audio leaks

Don’t interfere with judiciary’s administrative powers, CJP warns govt: SC larger bench take up petitions challenging judicial panel on audio leaks: Justice Bandial asks how can govt select SC judges for its own purpose: Remarks judiciary’s independence i

May 27, 2023 08:08 AM

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The Supreme Court while announcing its reserved verdict regarding issued a stay order against the formation of a judicial commission tasked to probe the purported audio leaks involving sitting and retired judges, reported 24NewsHD TV channel. 

In its order, SC said, "......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."

Earlier during the hearing, Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial remarked that the Supreme Court takes the judiciary’s independence very seriously. 

“We cannot abandon the principle of independence of the judiciary. Apparently, the formation of the commission is against Article 209. The government cannot form such a judicial commission. It’s wrong,” the top judge observed. 

Justice Munib Akhtar remarked where the PEMRA was when the purported audio tapes were leaked to the media. He wondered why no action was taken against those who released these purported tapes. 

The judge further remarked, “The inquiry commission could not assume the judiciary’s authority. How the government can put Article 209 on the backburner. The government is trying to pit three judges against other judges which is deplorable.”

A five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi and Justice Shahid Waheed on Friday heard a string of petitions moved by Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Abid Shahid Zuberi, SCBA Secretary Muqtedir Akhtar Shabbir, PTI Chairman Imran Khan and Advocate Riaz Hanif Rahi who wanted the top court to declared the audio leak judicial commission as illegal.

During the proceedings, CJP Bandial warned the government not to interfere with the judiciary’s administrative powers.

The government-appointed judicial commission, headed by Justice Qazi Faez Isa, was formed on May 20 under Section 3 of the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act 2017 and is required to conclude the task within a month. Balochistan High Court Chief Justice Naeem Akhtar Afghan and Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Aamer Farooq are the other two members of the commission which had conducted its maiden session earlier this week, deciding to make its proceedings public to ensure transparency and openness. The next session will be held on May 27 (tomorrow).

As the proceedings were set into motion on Friday, Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan came to the rostrum and raised an objection to the five-judge larger bench hearing the challenges to the judicial commission.

An apparently angry chief justice was quick to interrupt the attorney general, remarking: “Don’t interfere with our administrative powers. We have complete respect for the government. The judiciary is the protector of basic human rights.”

Justice Bandial further observed “How can the government select judges of the Supreme Court for its own purpose? Attorney General Sahib, this is a matter concerning the judiciary’s independence. Enough is enough”

The CJP further said the government cannot have judges included in benches as per its desire.

Justice Bandial also observed that the government had legislated on regulating the CJP’s powers in haste. “If the government would have consulted the judiciary, we would have shown it a better path, we would have given them relief,” he added.

He said because of the events of May 9, when violent protests broke out in the country following the arrest of the PTI chairman, statements targeting the judiciary had stopped.

The CJP maintained that the government tried to create differences between the judges, asking if the question of who was behind phone tapping was not included in the formation of the judicial commission, stressing that phone tapping was an unconstitutional act.

The chief justice declared that the constitution of the judicial commission on audio leaks was apparently in violation of Article 209 of the Constitution.

 Babar Awan appeared on behalf of the PTI chairman.

Reporter  Amanat Gishkori

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