Supreme Judicial Council Initiates Proceedings Against Justice Mazahar Naqvi

Supreme Judicial Council Initiates Proceedings Against Justice Mazahar Naqvi
In yet another stunning development, the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), Pakistan's apex judicial accountability institution, has commenced proceedings against Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi. The apex court judge is the subject of at least four formal complaints of misconduct and corruption that have come to public knowledge.

As per the reports, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, as chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, has formally sought an opinion from another member of the Council regarding complaints of misconduct against Justice Naqvi. The SJC is composed of the CJP, two senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, and two of the senior-most chief justices of the high courts. However, the SJC member from whom the CJP has sought an opinion remains unidentified so far.

According to Section 7 of the SJC Procedure of Enquiry Rules 2005, “once any information in respect of enquiry into the conduct of a judge is received by any member or the council, it shall be presented to the chairman of the council, who; shall (a) refer the same to any member of the council to look into the said information; and to express his opinion in relation to the sufficiency or otherwise of the information; (b) if the council is satisfied that the information prima facie discloses sufficient material for an enquiry, it shall proceed to consider the same”.

Analysts and legal experts say the Supreme Court and CJP Bandial were under immense pressure to display neutrality in the ongoing political polycrisis, and that they were "no longer in any position" to "extend undue favour or relief" to the PTI, or even to judges who have been accused of bias, partisanship, corruption and misconduct.

The cases against Justice Naqvi

In February this year, Justice Mazahar Naqvi emerged in an unflattering public spotlight when a purported telephonic conversation between him and then-chief minister Punjab, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, surfaced on social media. This 'audio leak' surfaced within a day of the first complaint being filed against the Justice Naqvi by Advocate Mian Dawood to the SJC. This complaint held that Justice Naqvi had violated the code of conduct for judges by possessing assets beyond his known sources of income. The notice invited a swift rebuke from Justice Naqvi's sons, who also sent a legal notice to Advocate Mian Dawood.

In early March, the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) also filed separate complaints at the SJC against Justice Naqvi. The PBC, Pakistan's top elected body of lawyers entrusted with regulating their legal practice, asked the SJC to immediately commence an inquiry and initiate “proper proceedings” against Justice Naqvi to thoroughly investigate reports of him amassing “assets worth crores of rupees” by allegedly misusing his authority as a Supreme Court judge.

The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) Lawyers' Forum also lodged a formal complaint to the SJC against Justice Naqvi on similar grounds. The PMLN, part of the ruling PDM coalition, has frequently accused Justice Naqvi of being 'biased'.

A nexus of 'judicial corruption'

Then on March 21, Muhammad Khan Bhatti, former principal secretary to chief minister Punjab and a close confidante of Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, exposed the secretive financial links between judges including Justice Naqvi, and politicians including Elahi, as quid-pro-quo's for securing favourable judgments in cases before the courts. Bhatti also named Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan, both on the Supreme Court, as additional beneficiaries of this judicial corruption "at a high level".

On March 22, the fourth SJC complaint against Justice Naqvi was submitted to the SJC by Advocate Ghulam Murtaza Khan. In his petition, Advocate Ghulam Murtaza Khan also pleaded that Justice Naqvi was guilty of misconduct according to the Constitution and the relevant laws and statutes governing judicial conduct in Pakistan.

Apex court judges urged CJP to hear allegations against Justice Naqvi

In spite of all these formal complaints, which had also come into the public eye, the SC appeared busy with other matters instead of transparency and internal accountability. On April 3, two judges of the SC themselves - senior puisne Justice Qazi Faez Isa, and Justice Sardar Tariq Masood - wrote to CJP Bandial to expeditiously convene a meeting of the SJC to "hear the complaints" against their brother judge, as the "confidence of the people in the integrity and independence of the judiciary" was on the line. Many commentators and analysts argued that the SJC proceedings against Justice Naqvi were 'suffering delays' as the judge was presumed to be in the Bandial faction of "like-minded" SC judges.

On April 10, yet another complaint was submitted to the SJC: this time by Advocate Sardar Salman was filed against the CJP himself, as well as three other apex court judges including Justice Naqvi. Advocate Salman prayed to the SJC to remove the CJP and the other three Justices for violating Article 209 of the Constitution. Then on April 14, Advocate Mian Dawood - who had filed the 'assets beyond means' complaint against Justice Naqvi on February 23 - also filed another complaint in the SJC, this time against eight SC judges including the CJP and Justice Naqvi.

Public Accounts Committee ordered action against Justice Naqvi

On April 18, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Pakistan's National Assembly summoned the SC registrar to explain why no audit of the apex court had been conducted over the past ten years. Then on May 9, the PAC voted to "initiate action" against Justice Naqvi in the form of a 'special audit' of his wealth and possessions, and a thorough investigation of corruption charges against him. 13 out of 14 members of the PAC voted in favour of scrutinising the judge’s bank accounts and holdings during that meeting; the sole PAC member who voted against that motion was PTI senator Mohsin Aziz.

More recently, it emerged that Justice Naqvi was also on the list of people who would be issued notices by the judicial commission probing the 'audio leaks'. However, the CJP Bandial-led apex court issued an order stalling the work of the judicial commission.

Integrity of justice system 'destroyed' by judges' activism

Pakistan's judicature, for long considered part of the unelected establishment that wields all the power in this dysfunctional and deeply indebted nation, has come under intense scrutiny ever since the superior courts involved themselves in the political disputes engendered by former prime minister Imran Khan after his ouster through a no confidence vote in April 2022.

The superior courts' decisions on legislators' disqualifications, and the apparent duplicity in verdicts which seemed to favour Khan and his PTI, have become a subject of serious concern over the SC's own legitimacy, which is unfortunately being subjected to ridicule in private conversations. In fact, some have argued that the SC is now mired in a crisis of its own making, and allegations of injudiciousness in judicial appointments have metastasized into accusations of "bench-fixing", a pejorative allusion to the illegal practice of "match-fixing" in the sport of cricket.

As adjudicators of right and wrong, and trustworthy interpreters of the laws, Pakistan's judges are expected to hold themselves to the highest standards of integrity, transparency, nonpartisanship and judiciousness. However, it still remains to be seen whether those honourable judges calling for the accountability of supposedly corrupt politicians and bureaucrats would submit themselves to the same yardstick of evaluation, or not.

The writer is a senior correspondent at The Friday Times with a focus on politics, economy and militancy. He also hosts the Hassan Naqvi Show on Naya Daur.