ISLAMABAD: A senior Supreme Court judge has approached the President of Pakistan seeking clarity regarding reports that the government has filed a reference against him over allegations of misconduct.
Justice Qazi Faez Isa, who is in line to eventually become chief justice of Pakistan, on May 28, wrote a letter to President Arif Alvi drawing his attention towards reports quoting government sources that a reference had been filed against him. Copies of the letter have been sent to the prime minister and the Supreme Court as well.
A source who has seen the letter told The Express Tribune that Justice Isa wrote, “I have to come to learn that the government sources are stating that a reference has been filed against me under Article 209 of the Constitution. I will be obliged if you (the president) could let me know whether this is correct and if it is, then provides me with a copy of the alleged reference.”
According to the source, Justice Isa further wrote, “I am confident that you will agree that if a reference has been filed and I have been called upon to submit a reply, only then to the permission of the Supreme Judicial Council, the government may disclose the reference and my response thereto.”
Likewise, the SC judge also went on to add that “selective leaks amount to character assassination” jeopardise his right to due process and fair trial, and undermines the institution of the judiciary.
The unprecedented move by Justice Isa came after it was reported that the government has filed references against two superior courts judges who hold foreign property either in their own names or through their spouses.
An official in the Ministry of Law confirmed that the reference was prepared within the ministry. The services of a former Supreme Court judge – who had taken oath under the 2007 Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) — were hired to file the reference. The ministry sent the reference to the SJC last week. However, there is no official confirmation by the council, which is the supreme body that decides cases against judges of superior courts. Likewise, the Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) office is completely mum over the presidential reference against two judges.
Meanwhile, Additional Attorney General Zahid F Ebrahim on Wednesday resigned from office a day after the government filed a reference over alleged misconduct by superior court judges. Ebrahim’s resignation letter states that persons at the highest level of the government have also confirmed to him that the reference was filed.
The son of renowned lawyer and former SC judge Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, the additional attorney general penned his resignation to President Arif Alvi, maintaining that one of the purported references is against a senior judge of the SC who is widely recognised for his unimpeachable integrity and against whom the government has already set its mind in the much-publicised review petitions in the Faizabad dharna case, filed last month.
“In my humble view, this is not about the accountability of judges, but a reckless attempt to tar the reputation of independent individuals and is browbeating the judiciary of Pakistan. Unless resisted, it will cause irreparable damage to the institution which is the protector of our fundamental rights and the bedrock of our fledgling democracy”.
Zahid also notes that he cannot in good conscience continue in office and therefore hereby tender his resignation as the additional attorney general with immediate effect.
Senior lawyers also wonder how the judges’ code of conduct has been violated by non-disclosure of a spouse’s property in income tax and wealth statements.
They question why the said judge would do anything illegal for his financial benefit when he did not even attempt to get a residential plot in Islamabad.
A complaint has also been lodged against one Sindh High Court (SHC) judge, who allegedly owns inherited a property in the United Kingdom.
Representatives of the bar council have started deliberations on their official response to the government’s move. It is learned that a joint statement by top lawyers of the country may also be issued in favour of the judges.
Balochistan Bar Council member Munir Kakar said they are getting information about the nature of the complaint against the judges. Likewise, a meeting of all representatives of Balochistan bar associations has also been called after Eid to evolve a strategy.
“If the government is intending to target any judge due to any of his verdicts, then the legal fraternity will offer strong resistance.”
Kakar alleged that ‘leftovers’ from the General Musharraf era were targeting few superior courts judges.
“However, we (lawyers) dealt with them in November 2007 and we are again ready to resist any such move against judiciary now,” he said.
Barrister Asad Rahim Khan said the law says that an active and fair-minded Supreme Judicial Council is necessary for the public to maintain faith in the judiciary.
“At the same time; however, Article 209 of the Constitution stipulates that a judge may only be removed if he is physically or mentally incapable of performing his duties, or if he has been guilty of misconduct.”
“The seriousness and provability of the latter charge need to be kept in mind before anyone embarks on filing such references,” he added.
PML-N, PPP vow to support judges
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz have condemned the government’s move to file references against superior courts judges. Both separately expressed full support for the judiciary.