SJC Meeting: Justice Naqvi Secures Additional Time To Submit Reply

Open proceedings were held for the first time in SJC history as the council granted Justice Naqvi until Jan 1 to file replies

SJC Meeting: Justice Naqvi Secures Additional Time To Submit Reply

Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi of the Supreme Court on Thursday received partial relief from the Supreme Judicial Council in the form of time until January 1 to submit his response to the two Show Cause Notices (SCN) he had been issued ten complaints of alleged corruption against him apart from being provided with the documents he had requested.

The grant of additional time to file a formal response against the allegations is critical given Justice Naqvi's application against the SJC, and the show cause notices issued to him are due to be heard by the Supreme Court on Friday. Any decision from the court could impact further proceedings of the SJC in the matter.

Directions for granting additional time to Justice Naqvi came as the Supreme Judicial Council met in Islamabad on Thursday evening, with Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa presiding over proceedings as the chairman of the SJC. Other members of the SJC which conducted the hearing included Senior Puisne Judge Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Lahore High Court's (LHC) Chief Justice (CJ) Muhammad Ameer Bhatti, and Balochistan High Court (BHC) CJ Naeem Akhtar Afghan.

Justice Naqvi attended the proceedings in the courtroom. His two sons, who are lawyers, took up seats around him. Justice Naqvi's designated counsel, Khawaja Harris, represented the judge.

During the proceedings, Justice Naqvi appeared anxious. His sons repeatedly advised him not to say anything. At one point, Justice Naqvi stood up as he heard the proceedings standing up. 

Thursday's hearing of the SJC was unique in that this was the first-ever hearing of the SJC against a judge of the Supreme Court, which was held openly. The decision to hold the hearing in open court came after a specific request from Justice Naqvi.

On October 27, the SJC issued a show cause notice to Justice Naqvi by a majority of three members to two while hearing ten complaints against the apex court judge. Justice Naqvi submitted a preliminary reply wherein he expressed mistrust of CJP Isa, Justice Masood and BHC CJ Afghan. 

He later challenged the SJC's decision to issue show cause notices to him in the Supreme Court, contending that the issuance of such a notice should be unanimous and not by majority. He filed the petitions under Article 184(3), and his petitions are expected to be taken up this week.

Notwithstanding the reservations expressed by Justice Naqvi, the SJC, in its subsequent meeting, issued a fresh and detailed show cause notice. This time, the notice was issued by a greater majority of four to one. The notice also spelt out the ten allegations for Justice Naqvi to respond to.

A quest for records and time

During Thursday's proceedings, SJC Chairman CJP Isa inquired whether the accused had furnished a reply to the two show cause notices issued to them. 

At this, Justice Naqvi's counsel, Khawaja Harris, responded that the reply had not been submitted as yet. He explained they were not provided with the SJC's record despite repeated requests.

At this, CJP Isa observed that the SJC could not compel someone to submit a reply.

Khawaja Harris further argued that conditions could not be imposed on submitting a reply, reiterating how his client had submitted repeated requests to the council to provide the requested information and record regarding the allegations, but these have remained unattended. He also sought more time to submit a response.

CJP Isa asked the counsel to present any rule or precedent on which he was basing his request for additional time.

"You asked for open proceedings, and we complied. Now, don’t say you submitted numerous requests. Tell us what you need and we will give it. Tell us which documents you need,” CJP Isa stated.

Dispelling the notion that the complaints were new or the proceedings uniquely targeting Justice Naqvi, CJP Isa made it clear that the complaints against Justice Naqvi were first taken up by his predecessor, former chief justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial. 

Advocate Harris argued that he had not been provided with former chief justice Umar Ata Bandial’s note, nor were they provided Justice Masood’s opinion on the matter. 

Reiterating the objection towards Justice Masood, Harris argued how the senior puisne judge could offer his legal opinion on Justice Naqvi when he, too, was facing complaints. 

At this, CJP Isa reminded Harris to stick to the issue at hand.

Khawaja Harris responded by repeating his refrain that he needs the SJC records to respond to the show cause notices.
At this point, CJP Isa remarked: "Your letters are up on social media before they reach us. If that is the case, then everything will go up on social media."

"You blamed our secretary for leaking the letter. When we asked our secretary, she said she did not even know media representatives," the SJC chairman continued.

At one point during the proceedings, Justice Naqvi got up from his seat, walked over to the rostrum and whispered something to his counsel, Khawaja Harris. Subsequently, Harris objected to the Attorney General being the prosecutor in the case. 

Harris argued that the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) is one of the ten complainants against Justice Naqvi and that the Attorney General, by virtue of being the chairman of the PBC, would be a prosecutor with a stake. 

However, the SJC rejected this argument. 

Khawaja Harris further contended that there was no concept of “complainants” under the SJC rules and that it could only be provided with information about judges.

Subsequently, the SJC gave Justice Naqvi until January 1, 2024, to file his response to the show cause notices. 

The SJC said that Justice Naqvi, who was standing at the rostrum, could file a list of witnesses he wishes to call up to testify in his defence. 

Further, the SJC directed to provide Justice Naqvi with all the records he had requested. 

The Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP), who is also the prosecutor, was directed to submit a list of witnesses.  

Further proceedings of the SJC on this matter were adjourned until January 11.

Buying time

Khawaja Harris' focus was to secure additional time for Justice Naqvi to submit a reply to the notices issued by the SJC. Harris pursued this in his consistent demand for the record of allegations and proceedings. 

It is believed that Justice Naqvi's quest to seek more time was an attempt to delay further proceedings of the SJC until his petition against the SJC's proceedings is heard.

A three-judge bench, headed by Justice Aminud Din, is expected to hear Justice Naqvi's petition on Friday. Justice Naqvi hopes the bench will issue a stay order on the SJC's proceedings. 

During the proceedings, the SJC Chairman CJP Isa made it clear that the council was a constitutional body that was separate from the Supreme Court, which is a separate constitutional body. 

Open proceedings of SJC

At the outset of Thursday's proceedings, SJC Chairman Chief Justice Isa observed that the existing procedure calls for an in-camera hearing of the council to be conducted to protect the judge. However, in this instance, it was the accused judge who had requested to hold open proceedings and that the request had been accepted.

Earlier, in another case regarding the deposed judge of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa had expressed views in favour of holding open proceedings of SJC against judges. 

A segment of lawyers also favour holding open proceedings of the SJC because when allegations against a judge become public, then proceedings on those allegations should also be held in open court. 

The writer is an Islamabad based journalist working with The Friday Times. He tweets @SabihUlHussnain