Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial. — SC website

Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial. — SC website

ISLAMABAD: The government on Friday objected to Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial’s inclusion in the five-member bench formed to hear pleas challenging the formation of a judicial commission tasked to probe audio leaks involving the judiciary.

The bench, a day earlier, was constituted by CJP Bandial to conduct hearing of the pleas filed under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.

Those who have challenged the petitions include Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, Muqtedir Akhtar Shabbir, Advocate Riaz Hanif and Supreme Court Bar Association President Abid Shah Zubairi.

The bench is being headed by CJP Bandial and comprises Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Syed Hassan Azhar Rizvi and Justice Shahid Waheed.

At the outset of today’s hearing, Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan asked CJP Bandial to excuse himself, inviting a stronger reaction from the top judge.

“It is requested that the chief justice should not be a part of this bench,” AGP Awan said.

Responding to the AGP, CJP Bandial asked if he meant for him to leave the bench. “You should not interfere with our administrative authority.”

The top supreme court judge added that while he respects the request made by Awan, the post of the chief justice is constitutional.

“I knew you would raise this objection. The judiciary is not subservient to the government. There is a division of authority in the Constitution,” he remarked.

“The judiciary is the protector of basic human rights. We fully respect the government,” the chief justice said addressing Awan.

The country’s top judge also lamented over the government’s “hasty” decision to enact legislation regulating the chief justice’s powers. 

“How can the government use judges for its own motives,” CJP Bandial asked the AGP.

Formation of commission

Under Section 3 of the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act 2017, the government, on May 20, appointed a high-powered judicial commission — headed by Supreme Court Senior Puisne Judge Justice Qazi Faez Isa along with Balochistan High Court Chief Justice Naeem Akhtar Afghan and Islamabad High Court (IHC) CJ Aamer Farooq as members — to investigate the audio leaks involving former and sitting members of the judiciary. The commission has been tasked to complete the inquiry within 30 days.

Among the multiple audio leaks, the commission is also probing into the veracity of the alleged calls between former Punjab chief minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi and a sitting top court judge as well as another call between CM Elahi and a Supreme Court lawyer over the constitution of an apex court bench.

Subsequently, PTI chief questioned the government for the “deliberate omission” of the terms of reference (TORs) and challenged the formation of the three-member judicial commission on audio leaks.

Babar Awan, Khan’s lawyer and party leader, had filed the plea on his behalf requesting the court to declare the notification for constituting the commission null and void.

Similarly, Zubairi had also challenged the audio leaks commission to summon directing him to appear before the panel in connection with the inquiry.

Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar earlier said that the government did not consult CJP Bandial before forming the commission.

The judicial panel was constituted in the wake of widely circulated controversial audio leaks which raised “serious apprehensions about the independence, impartiality and uprightness of the Chief Justices/Judges of the Superior Courts in the administration of justice”.

Meanwhile, the commission has also summoned four people connected with the alleged audios including Zubairi, Advocate Khawaja Tariq Rahim, journalist Abdul Qayyum Siddiqui and son of former CJP Saqib Nisar, Najam Saqib, today.

Earlier this week, the Justice Isa-led commission announced that the proceedings of its inquiry will be made public as it held its first hearing earlier this week on Monday in courtroom number 7 of the Supreme Court.

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