ISLAMABAD, June 16 (DAWN/WNP): As the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) finally admitted on Saturday to the pendency of the presidential references that will be disposed of in the due course of time, copies of the government complaints have been sent to the two superior court judges.
An informed source told Dawn that the copies of the references on which the SJC held a preliminary hearing on Friday amid lawyers’ protest have been sent to Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court and Justice K.K. Agha of the Sindh High Court who are facing the allegations of not declaring properties in the United Kingdom in the name of their wives and children.
Both judges have also been asked to volunteer, if they choose so, to clarify their position on the allegations levelled in the complaint against them, but none of the judges has been issued a formal show-cause notice under the Supreme Judicial Council Procedure of Enquiry 2005.
“It is not mandatory for the judges to respond, but it should be construed as an opportunity for them to explain and convince the council that the allegations are frivolous,” said a senior lawyer on condition of anonymity.
Instead of waiting for formal show-cause notices, which the SJC might issue if it decided to go ahead with the references, the judges were free to offer their defence before the council, he said, adding that the opportunity was in line with Section 8(3) of the inquiry rules.
The section 8(3) of the inquiry rules suggests that if the council is of the view that before forming an opinion, it should also hear the judge under the inquiry, it will require the accused judge to present himself before the council, which will provide him the information and the material received against him.
In case the judge opted not to volunteer his defence before the council, the lawyer said, the preliminary session of the SJC would conclude and the council would make an assessment about issuing a show-cause notice to the judges and proceeding further.
Meanwhile, the SJC has dispelled the impression that about 350 references were pending with it. Such an impression was created during the last few days on electronic and print media.
An official announcement stated that figures repeatedly quoted by different people were not only erroneous, but also misleading and contrary to the facts.
It explained that 426 complaints or references were received by the SJC and all of them had been processed and after going through different stages of process, 398 cases had been disposed of, and only 28 cases, including the two presidential references, were pending before it. All such cases were in process and would be disposed of in due course of time, the announcement said.
During the past few days Supreme Court Bar Association president Amanullah Kanrani and other bar leaders have repeatedly claimed that over 300 references are pending with the SJC, but only the two fresh references have been taken up for hearing.
“These are important disclosures made by the SJC aimed primarily at controlling surmises, conjectures and misleading statements,” commented advocate Raheel Kamran Sheikh.
He suggested that such disclosures should not remain a one-time exercise rather it must be made a permanent feature ie an institutionalised practice with periodic updates and for that purpose the SJC inquiry procedure should be amended to meet the requirements of the citizens’ fundamental right to information embodied in Article 19A of the constitution.
However, the lawyer regretted that the disclosure neither revealed how many complaints had been disposed of as having become infructuous on account of retirement of the judges accused of misconduct nor did the disclosure reveal how many complaints had been dismissed for being false or not making out misconduct on part of the accused judges and what action, if any, had been taken against the complainants.
As much as independence of the judiciary was endangered by the absence of judicial accountability, Raheel Sheikh said, it was equally important to safeguard judges from unwarranted external attacks and sternly deal with those involved in maligning the judges.
As demanded by the Pakistan Bar Council, the disclosure about the total number of complaints should be made regarding the nature of alleged misconduct ie financial, judicial, administrative so that the SJC might adopt reasonable classification to deal with one or the other class of complaints and set an order of priority without having to face accusation of acting arbitrarily or selectively, the lawyer said.
Therefore, he said, the extent of disclosure must be intended to inspire public confidence and build faith of the public at large as well as the bar in the institution of the SJC that it would carry out accountability in an open and transparent manner and that there would be no room for witch hunting or selective accountability.