Justice in the spotlight

The IHC judges’ letter has rightly been taken seriously by the legal fraternity, parts of the political class (albeit for reasons much less lofty than claimed), and the media. Allegations of interference by intelligence agencies in judicial affairs should have elicited a serious response – and they have for the most part. In this, the decision by former CJP Tassaduq Hussain Jillani to recuse himself from heading the inquiry commission also underscores the gravity of the situation and the delicate balance required to uphold rule of law and ensure judicial independence. On March 26, six judges of the IHC had in a letter asked the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) to convene a judicial convention over what they allege is interference by members of the executive, including intelligence agencies, in judicial affairs. The judges also asked the SJC to guide them on how to deal with such interference. The letter came days after the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Justice Shaukat Siddiqui case in which the apex court ruled that Justice Siddiqui’s removal from his position was illegal. On March 18, Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa met with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, discussed the situation, and said that such meddling in the judicial workings of judges would not be tolerated. It was after this that the government had announced an inquiry commission to look into the allegations; the commission was to be headed by Justice (r) Jillani. The IHC letter, detailing instances of pressure, surveillance, and intimidation, painted a disturbing picture of the challenges faced by the judiciary in discharging its duties without fear or favour. From alleged attempts to influence case outcomes to the harrowing abduction and torture of judges’ relatives, the allegations strike at the heart of judicial independence and underscore the urgent need for a thorough investigation.

The response from various quarters, including calls for a probe and appeals for the Supreme Court to intervene, have obviously not gone unheard. The decision to constitute an inquiry commission, headed by ex-CJP Jillani, was seen by some as a step in the right direction – but not enough of a step, concerned lawyers and civil society members invoking Article 184(3) of the constitution and asking the chief justice to take suo-motu action. In an open letter, the civil and legal society had also asked that any such case be telecast live in the interest of a commitment to transparency and accountability, crucial elements in restoring public trust in the judiciary. Jillani’s decision to recuse himself also highlights the complexity of the issue and the need for utmost transparency and impartiality in the investigation process.

The allegations by the IHC judges, if proven true, show the threat to the fundamental principles of justice and rule of law. It is imperative for the Supreme Court to conduct a thorough investigation, free from any external influence or pressure, and to hold those responsible for undermining judicial independence to account. As the Supreme Court takes suo-motu notice of the matter and constitutes a larger bench to hear the case, all stakeholders need to cooperate fully in the investigation process. The judiciary, the executive, and the security apparatus all must work together to ensure that justice is served and that the integrity of the judiciary is safeguarded at all costs. In the face of these alarming allegations, the justice system stands at a crossroads – a moment that demands unwavering commitment to the principles of justice, independence, and accountability. Only through a transparent and impartial investigation can the truth be uncovered and the foundations of the judiciary be strengthened for the future.

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