As the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) heard the references against Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court and Justice Karim Khan Agha of the Sindh High Court on Friday, a large number of lawyers — representing the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and other bodies — held a sit-in at the top court in protest.
The main entrance of the apex court was blocked by the lawyers.
The five-member SJC comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, Sindh High Court Chief Justice Ahmed Ali M. Shaikh and Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Waqar Ahmed Seth heard the references against Justices Isa and Agha for allegedly possessing properties in the United Kingdom.
Attorney General Anwar Mansoor, who had received a notice from the SJC to appear as a prosecutor, tried to convince the council to begin formal proceedings in the matter. However, it was not yet clear whether the council had been convinced by his arguments or not.
Mansoor didn’t reply to the questions posed by journalists after the hearing of the two references. The SJC was expected to decide the maintainability of the references today.
The Karachi Bar Association had already cancelled the membership of Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan and Law Minister Barrister Farogh Naseem.
Earlier today, SCBA President Amanullah Kanrani and other lawyers burnt copies of the references. Banners with slogans against the two references and demanding their withdrawal were put up on walls of the SC building.
“Our voice is suppressed,” Kanrani said at a press conference, adding that the unity between the PBC and the SCBA was visible for all. “Today, lawyers from across the country showed solidarity [with their protesting fellows].”
“The PBC has constituted an action committee and we are all bound to obey its decisions.”
He announced that PBC Vice Chairman Amjad Shah will lead the lawyers’ protest movement.
Lawyers’ leader Ali Ahmed Kurd claimed that the lawyers could not be defeated.
“This partial democracy is intact because of us,” he said, adding that it was not only an issue of a judge but of the entire lawyers’ fraternity and people.
“I warn [the government] that the reference[s] are based on mala fide intentions,” he said, insisting that the protesting lawyers’ viewpoint on the issue was valid.
“You [the government] want to deliver a message to other judges and we are here to refrain you from doing so.”
He said that judges should be free in making their decisions and Justice Isa was such a judge [who is free in his rulings]. He also warned of a lawyers movement from Peshawar “which no one would be able to halt”.
He regretted that “a small group of lawyers, on someone’s whims, was attempting to sabotage today’s strike”.
Meanwhile, five benches of the apex court continued their functions as per routine.
BHCBA members protest references
Members of the legal fraternity staged a protest demonstration at the Balochistan High Court (BHC) against the reference. They chanted slogans against what they described as the punishment of Justice Isa for his stance.
Balochistan Bar Council Executive Committee Chairman Advocate Rahib Buledi, BHC Bar Association (BHCBA) President Shah Muhammad Jatoi, and other prominent lawyers participated in the protest, demanding the government withdraw the reference against Justice Isa.
They claimed the reference was equivalent to pressuring judges with regards to delivery of justice.
Strict security measures were adopted by the administration inside and outside court premises to maintain order during the protest.
Legal bodies differ on references
On Thursday, a group of lawyers associated with the Punjab Bar Council (PbBC) had distanced themselves from the strike called by the PBC.
Groups of lawyers belonging to Sindh and various bar associations of Punjab had also opposed the call given by the PBC ─ the apex regulatory body of lawyers ─ for a countrywide strike.
Earlier this week, the bar councils — including the PBC, PbBC, Sindh Bar Council, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bar Council, Balochistan Bar Council and Islamabad Bar Council — unanimously demanded the withdrawal of the references since they were based on mala fide intentions and were filed without adhering to the mandatory provisions of relevant laws.
As many as 10 members of the PbBC took part in yesterday’s press conference in Lahore to disassociate themselves from the strike tomorrow.
They said the call was tantamount to exerting pressure on the SJC, and claimed that all 75 members of the PbBC, including office-bearers, supported the decision to oppose the strike. They added that lawyers from across the province would appear in courts on Friday.
The Lahore Bar Association had also disassociated itself from the strike call. The body held a meeting yesterday, after which a press release was issued, stating that the LBA had voted on and passed a resolution in favour of SJC pursuing references against the judges. The statement called for a speedy trial of the judges.
The Lahore High Court Bar Association had also held a meeting yesterday to discuss five resolutions on the matter of the reference against Justice Isa but, according to a statement issued by the body, a ruckus ensured that the meeting was inconclusive.
LHCBA Secretary Fayyaz Ahmed Ranjha in a statement said the meeting had fallen prey to mismanagement. He added that, if needed, the resolutions would be tabled again on a suitable occasion. He said that no notification had been issued with respect to a strike on June 14.
Meanwhile, a private reference against Justice Isa was filed in the SJC by Advocate Waheed Shahzad Butt under Article 209 of the Constitution for allegedly violating the code of conduct for judges by writing two letters to President Dr Arif Alvi. The reference pleaded that the judge had committed a gross misconduct by writing the letters and then allegedly sharing it with the media, thus liable to be removed on the recommendations of the SJC.
“By choosing a public forum for voicing his personal and subjective views and opinions, the judge has denounced the judiciary of this country as a whole, targeted the chief executive (prime minister) of the country and used offensive language to criticise the matter,” the reference alleged.
Former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry also entered a caveat before the SJC by asking the council not to entertain rather reject the reference against Justice Isa by holding it against the constitutional provisions and being false, untrue and without substance.
The communication by Justice Chaudhry also asked the SJC to suggest appropriate action against the president and the prime minister as provided under Rule 14 of the Supreme Judicial Council Procedure of Inquiry 2005. He said the prime minister and the president, as per the requirements of their oath under Articles 42 and 91(5) of the Constitution were bound not to communicate or reveal to any person any matter which would be brought under their consideration or become known to them except as may be required for the discharge of their duties.
But in the instant case, before commencement of the proceedings by the SJC on the reference, the contents along with a few documents were made public, due to which the judge as well as the judiciary as a whole had been scandalised.
The caveat stated that the prime minister had not complied with the constitutional provisions as well as the apex court judgement in the 2006 Mustafa Impex case since without discussing and seeking approval of the cabinet, the reference was forwarded to the president. Therefore, the reference was unwarranted and thus not maintainable before the SJC, he stated.