Justice Isa-led commission objects to SC bench hearing audio leaks case

CJP Umar Ata Bandial adjourns hearing till next week; SC registrar office returns govt's plea with objections

Maryam Nawaz
A combo of Justice Qazi Faez Isa, IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Balochistan High Court Chief Justice Naeem Akhtar Afghan. — SC/IHC/BHC/File
A combo of Justice Qazi Faez Isa, IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Balochistan High Court Chief Justice Naeem Akhtar Afghan. — SC/IHC/BHC/File
  • SC registrar office returns govt's petition with objections. 
  • CJP directs AGP to provide copies of govt's plea to all parties.
  • Hearing adjourned hearing till next week.

ISLAMABAD: After the federal government, the judicial commission formed to probe the audio leaks related to the judiciary also raised objections to the Supreme Court bench hearing the pleas challenging the high-powered body.

"It would not be appropriate for this bench to hear these petitions," read a reply submitted by the judicial commission ahead of the hearing on Wednesday. 

The five-member Supreme Court (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, (SC) was hearing the pleas. 

During the previous hearing, the court stayed the proceedings of the commission and suspended the federal government's notification of the commission's constitution.

When the hearing resumed today, the court said that new petitions had been filed against the commission and that it would hear them next week. The hearing was then adjourned shortly after it started.

The federal government had, earlier this month, constituted a three-member judicial commission headed by SC's Justice Qazi Faez Isa — under Section 3 of the Pakistan Commissions of the Inquiry Act, 2017 — to probe the veracity of recent audio leaks and their impact on the independence of the judiciary.

Commission's response

Today, Secretary to Commission Hafeezullah Khajjak submitted a response to the SC’s notice.

In its response, the commission wondered why its proceedings had been stopped without any notice given to it regarding the matter and why it had not been heard before the stay order was issued.

“The proceedings of the Commission were stopped without hearing the Inquiry Commission,” the response stated.

Moreover, the commission’s response pointed out that no other member of the alleged audio leaks had filed a plea in the Supreme Court nor objected to the commission, adding that several people had confirmed they had no objection to the inquiry.

Addressing the court’s assertions that the commission was usurping the powers of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) since it was the role of the council to enquire into matters of the judiciary, the response stated that the commission had already clarified its position on Article 209 in the first session.

“It was clarified that the action of the Commission should not be considered as the action of the Supreme Judicial Council,” the response stated.

Furthermore, in the detailed 26-page long response, the commission raised questions on the appropriateness of the incumbent bench to hear the matter.

Taking the same line as the federal government in its petition yesterday, the commission said: “The oath taken by the Chief Justices and Judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts require them to act, 'in accordance with the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the law'.

They are also required to, 'abide by the code of conduct issued by the Supreme Judicial Council' and not to allow their 'personal interest to influence' their 'official conduct' or 'official decisions'."

The response stated that a judge "must decline resolutely” to act in a case involving his own interest."

Defending the commission, the response said that it had no personal interest in the inquiry and had been given this responsibility under the law.

“The commission will fulfil its responsibility according to the constitution and law,” it stated, further pledging that any objections raised by the parties concerned would be taken into account.

Moreover, the commission also objected to the procedure in which the 5-member bench was formed.

“The matter of bench formation was not placed before the Judges Committee,” the response said.

In light of these points, the commission asserted that it would be better if the 5-member bench postpones the hearing till the formation of the bench by the Judiciary Committee.

Govt's plea returned with objection

The Registrar’s Office returned the federal government's petition objecting to the involvement of CJP Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar in the five-member bench.

Citing “conflicts of interest”, the government had requested that they recuse themselves from the bench.

However, today the registrar’s office returned the petitions and said: “Make the request in open court."

The federal government, a day earlier, filed a plea against the three judges and requested that a new bench be formed to hear the petitions.

In the petition, the government requested that a new bench be formed to hear the petitions against the commission.

Today's hearing

At the outset of the hearing, CJP Bandial said that the court would include some new petitions filed in the case and would hear the attorney general for Pakistan's (AGP) plea first.

"We will hear the attorney general's arguments on the objections to the bench. A decision on the objections was not taken at the last hearing," the CJP said.

He further said that the arguments on the new pleas will be heard in the next week.

During the hearing, PTI's lawyer said that the federal government had accused the party of discussing the case on TV shows.

Addressing the accusations, the lawyer said that the party was simply "defending" the SC.

"Everyone saw what happened outside the gates of the Supreme Court," Shaheen added while referring to the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) sit-in earlier this month.

At this, the top judge assured the lawyer of listening to all of their concerns.

"The attorney general's petition has not been filed yet," CJP Bandial said, adding that the petition had not been allotted a registration number.

He then instructed the AGP to provide the copies of government's petition to all the parties concerned.

The hearing was then adjourned till next week, shortly after the resumption of proceedings.

"[We] will hear the case someday in the next week," CJP Bandial said while adjourning the hearing. 

Audio leaks to be probed

The commission was notified to investigate the following audio leaks:

  • Call between former Punjab chief minister and an advocate about fixation of some cases before a particular SC bench.
  • Call between former Punjab chief minister and a sitting apex court judge.
  • Call between former chief justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar and a senior lawyer.
  • Call between a lawyer and a journalist on the outcome of a case before a particular SC bench.
  • Call between former prime minister Khan and his party colleague about their links in the apex court.
  • Call between mother-in-law of CJP Umar Ata Bandial and wife of a lawyer regarding SC cases and conversation about an unconstitutional rule.
  • Call between ex-CJP Nisar’s son Najam Saqib and his friend mentioning his father in a political role.