Pakistan: IHC judges’ letter; Over 300 lawyers call on SC to take notice under Article 184(3)


Over 300 lawyers on Sunday urged the Supreme Court (SC) to take notice of allegations of interference in the judiciary by the intelligence apparatus under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, adding that any government-led commission “would be bereft of necessary independence and powers” to probe the claims.

Article 184(3) of the Constitution sets out the SC’s original jurisdiction and enables it to assume jurisdiction in matters involving a question of “public importance” with reference to the “enforcement of any of the fundamental rights” of Pakistan’s citizens.

On Tuesday, six Islamabad High Court judges — out of a total strength of eight — wrote a startling letter to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) members, regarding attempts to pressure judges through abduction and torture of their relatives as well as secret surveillance inside their homes.

The letter was signed by judges Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri, Babar Sattar, Sardar Ejaz Ishaq Khan, Arbab Muhammad Tahir and Saman Rafat Imtiaz.

A day later, calls emerged from various quarters for a probe into the investigation, amid which Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa summoned a full court meeting of the SC judges.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif met CJP Isa, where the two decided to form a commission to investigate the concerns of interference in judicial affairs following the cabinet’s approval.

On Saturday, the federal cabinet approved the constitution of an inquiry commission headed by former CJP Tassaduq Hussain Jillani to probe the allegations and decide whether these are true or otherwise.

It will also investigate if any official was directly involved in judicial interference and suggest action against any agency, department or state institution based on the facts unearthed. The commission will also be at liberty to investigate any other matter during the course of the inquiry if it feels the issue to be important.

Today, more than 300 lawyers from across the country — including Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir, Zainab Janjua, Abdul Moiz Jaferii, Salman Akram Raja, Taimur Malik and the son of the ex-CJP tasked with the probe, Saqib Jillani — issued a public statement.

The full statement was also shared on social media platform X by Mazari-Hazir and Janjua.

It said that all those who had signed had issued the statement to “express our unwavering commitment and wholehearted support to the principles of rule of law, independence of judiciary and access to justice” in light of the allegations made by the IHC judges.

“We endorse the resolutions passed by the Islamabad High Court Bar Association, the Islamabad Bar Association, the Sindh High Court Bar Association, the Pakistan Bar Council, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bar Council and the Balochistan Bar Council to the extent that they resolve to uphold the principle of independence of judiciary, express solidarity with the six judges of the IHC, commend their courageous action and demand appropriate action to uphold such principles,” it said.

The statement noted that this was not the first time that such allegations had been raised. It said that Justice (retired) Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui had raised “similar allegations and was consequently, unceremoniously removed from office, without following due process”.

Referring to the SC’s recent verdict on the murder trial of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the statement said that it was an “indictment of the historic role played by the judiciary in Pakistan and it is commendable to the extent of the sober acknowledgement therein that public perception of judicial independence has been prejudiced”.

It further said that the SC’s verdict in Shaukat Aziz’s case vindicated the former judge to the extent of his removal.

“However, neither decision is able to provide justice to the victims. Indeed, acknowledgement of past mistakes is a laudable first step, however it is now high time to move from acknowledgements to concrete measures for course correction in real-time. A failure to act urgently and transparently in the matter may irreparably prejudice the public confidence in the independence of judiciary which is the very fabric which holds the entire constitutional structure together,” the statement said.

“When judges, the last guardians standing between state excesses and the fundamental rights of citizens, are systematically coerced and intimidated, the entire system of justice becomes a sham and loses its credibility. Lawyers seeking justice for litigants before the courts do so with the expectation that they will be heard by neutral, impartial and unbiased arbiters seeking to dispense justice. If judges are not free to dispense justice without fear, then the entire legal system, including lawyers, cease to hold any value,” it said.

It urged the Pakistan Bar Council and all the bar associations to call a convention of lawyers on an “urgent basis” to decide on a collective course of action to strengthen the independence of the judiciary.

The statement also called on the apex court to take cognisance of the matter in its jurisdiction under Article 184(3) of the Constitution “as this issue eminently relates to public interest and to the enforcement of fundamental rights”.

The statement said that the matter should be dealt with transparently and in the public eye as “it is the public confidence in the independence of judiciary which needs to be restored”.

“In the interests of transparency and to ensure that the matter may not be politicised, we call upon the Supreme Court of Pakistan to constitute a bench comprising of all available judges to hear the matter and for the proceedings to be telecast live for public consumption,” it said.

The statement further said that such proceedings should not be limited in scope and should inquire into the allegations levelled in the IHC letter as well as those levelled by Siddiqui.

The proceedings should also “affix responsibility for any breach by the executive officials (if proven) and hold those responsible to account to secure the independence of the judiciary and to restore public confidence in the institution of judiciary”.

The statement further said that the press release issued by the SC after Wednesday’s full court meeting stated that a consensus was developed that the CJP hold a meeting with the premier, but did not state that a consensus had been developed on constituting an inquiry commission.

“We express our deep dissatisfaction and dismay with this course of action which in itself is the very antithesis of the principle of independence of judiciary,” it said.

The statement highlighted that the inquiry commission was required to conduct the probe and perform its functions in accordance with the TORs notified by the federal government. Further, the timeframe of the inquiry and whether or not the report would be made public was also within the control of the government.

“In view of such powers conferred upon the federal government, the inquiry commission would be bereft of necessary independence and powers to conduct a transparent, impartial and meaningful inquiry to restore the public confidence in the independence of judiciary,” it said.

“Accordingly, any inquiry into the matter undertaken under the purview of the federal government violates the very principles that the inquiry seeks to protect and uphold. We note that any such inquiry commission and its proceedings would be entirely wanting in credibility,” it said.

The statement urged the SJC to “lay down guidelines” and for the SC, in coordination with all the high courts, to set up “transparent institutional mechanisms so that any attempt at undermining the independence of judiciary may be reported and dealt with effectively and transparently, so that no one may cast any aspersions on the independence of the judiciary in the future”.

Barrister Malik, one of the signatories who contested the Feb 8 general elections as a PTI-backed independent, said Jillani’s son, Saqib, was “one of the first” to sign the public statement.

“Former CJP Jillani’s son, Saqib, and I literally grew up together. We now strongly disagree with each other on politics but we are in agreement on the need for legal reforms and ensuring true independence of judiciary,” Malik said on X.

The letter

Dated March 25, the letter was signed by IHC Justices Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri, Babar Sattar, Sardar Ejaz Ishaq Khan, Arbab Muhammad Tahir and Saman Rafat Imtiaz.

It mentioned seven instances of alleged interference and intimidation “to influence the outcome of cases of interest” by the intelligence officials, pointing out that when two out of three judges in the bench hearing the plea to disqualify PTI leader Imran Khan for concealing his alleged daughter opined that the case was not maintainable, they were pressured by “operatives of the ISI” through friends and relatives.

The situation got so stressful that one of the judges had to be admitted to hospital due to high blood pressure, the letter said.

According to the six judges, the matter was brought to the notice of the IHC chief justice and the then-CJP. The former informed the judges that he had “spoken to the DG-C of ISI and had been assured that no official from ISI will approach the judges of the IHC”.

The letter complained that “interference on the part of intelligence operatives” continued even after IHC CJ’s assurance.

It also referred to the abduction of an IHC judge’s brother-in-law by armed men who claimed to be ISI operatives. The victim was “administered electric shocks” and “forced to record a video” making false allegations, apparently against the judge.

“Subsequently, a complaint was filed against the judge of IHC before the SJC, accompanied by an orchestrated media campaign to bring pressure to bear upon the judge to resign.”

The letter revealed that in May 2023, an IHC inspection judge reported to the chief justice that district court judges were being intimidated and crackers were thrown into the house of one additional district and sessions judge.

The judge was even called to the IHC to verify the claims which he confirmed. But instead of probing the allegations, the judge “was made officer on special duty and transferred to IHC, before being sent back to Punjab as he was a judicial officer on deputation”.

The letter said that last year, during routine maintenance, an IHC judge found that his official residence had been bugged with spy cameras concealed in his drawing room and bedroom.

When data from surve­illance equipment was rec­overed, it showed that “pr­i­vate videos of the judge and his family members” were stored. “The matter was brought to the attention of the IHC chief justice. There has been no determination of who installed the equipment and who is to be held accountable…”, the letter added.

Along with their letter to the SJC, the six judges also attached copies of letters written to Justice Farooq on May 10, 2023 and Feb 12, 2024.

The letters mentioned, among other complaints, ISI officials’ efforts to pressurise IHC judges and probe into the tax records of at least one judge “to seek a certain outcome”.

They added that it was imperative to determine whether there was a “policy on the part of the executive … implemented by intelligence operatives” to intimidate judges.

“[The] allegations of interference by operatives of ISI have been dealt with and relief has been granted to a former judge of IHC who was wronged. We believe that while such action was necessary, it may not be sufficient,” the letter said about Justice Siddiqui’s case.

The judges noted that the SJC’s code of conduct for judges did not outline the response to such incidents “that are tantamount to intimidation and interfere with judicial independence”.

They called for a judicial convention to discuss the interference of intelligence officials “that undermines independence of the judiciary”.

The consultation would help the Supreme Court to determine a course of action that judges could take “when they find themselves at the receiving end”, the letter