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Lawyers pen letter to SJC about basis for references

ISLAMABAD: A group of Lahore-based lawyers have written a letter to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), seeking information regarding the criteria based on which it decided to first take up references against Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice K.K. Agha, it emerged on Tuesday. They also sought information about the number of complaints dismissed by the council for being false and frivolous with attempts to scandalise the superior judiciary.

The seven-page letter dispatched to the council on Monday was formulated by Advocate Usama Khawar Ghumman and supported by lawyers Angbeen Mirza, Ramis Sohail, Ali Javed Darugar, Imaan Zainab Hazir Mazari, Hafiz Rahman Aziz, Waleed bin Usman and Mohammad Awais Akbar.

In the letter addressed to the SJC secretary, the lawyers requested the council to apprise whether any class or types of complaints existed which were given priority by the council in the sequence of hearing and what was the criteria on the basis of which it decided to first take up references against Justice Isa of the Supreme Court and Justice Agha of the Sindh High Court.

A preliminary hearing was held by SJC on the complaints moved through presidential references against the two judges on June 14.

The letter comes against the backdrop of a recent announcement made by the SJC that it had received 426 references and all of them, it claimed, were duly processed after passing through several stages, resulting in 398 cases being disposed of, while only 28 cases remained pending.

The letter wanted the council to clarify whether the number 426 is the total number of complaints filed since the SJC was established about five decades ago or was 426 the number of references filed after the promulgation of the Supreme Judicial Council Procedure of Enquiry 2005.

Transparency

“For ensuring free and independent judiciary, it is imperative to strike a balance between judicial accountability and need to safeguard and insulate judges from mala fide, vexatious and frivolous complaints or references,” said the letter. Therefore, those involved in maligning or pressurising judges through filing mala fide references must be sternly dealt with, said the lawyers.

To safeguard against such mala fide complaints, Article 14 of the SJC enquiry procedure equips the council with the authority to initiate action against the complaints, the letter highlighted, adding that the SJC disclosure about the total number of complaints did not reveal how many complaints were decided on merit neither did it reveal how many references were disposed of for becoming infructuous due to the retirement of the accused judges.

The disclosure also failed to inform how many complaints had been dismissed for being false and vexatious or because of misconduct on the part of the accused judge, said the letter.

The revelation also did not tell what action had been taken against the complainants who filed the frivolous complaints, the lawyers highlighted.

They also asked the SJC secretary to apprise them as to what action, if any, had been initiated by the council against the complainant who provided the information that was either false or was motivated with the intention to malign a judge or scandalise the court to undermine it.

The letter urged the secretary that if no action had been taken against the false complaints, then action should be initiated under Article 14 of the SJC enquiry procedure.

The letter brought the attention of the council to the fact that a couple of years ago, the Pakistan Bar Council had formally sought data from the SJC regarding the references, hearings on the references, decisions on the references, etc, but the latter had refused, citing it as privileged information.

The lawyers said it gave them satisfaction that the SJC had realised the importance of transparency by waiving the privilege which would go a long way in inspiring confidence among citizens and lawyers concerning judicial accountability.

It is a fundamental principle of privilege but it cannot be employed selectively. This waiver should not be engaged in cherry-picking, the letter reminded the council.

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