By calling ISI official, IHC judges making a point


ISLAMABAD:

The standoff between the judicial branch and the nation’s security agencies has escalated, as evidenced by the Islamabad High Court’s recent move to summon an active ISI sector commander in a case regarding the disappearance of poet Ahmed Farhad Shah.

Typically, high-ranking courts hesitate to call in active military officers for testimony, with few notable exceptions.

Tariq Mahmood Khokhar, a former deputy attorney general, pointed out that there have been occurrences where military officers have been summoned. He cited an instance where Justice Qazi Faez Isa called in two major generals in succession to appear before the Supreme Court in an Anti-Narcotics Force case.

Khokhar also mentioned a similar instance where a Lahore High Court judge insisted that a military officer testify in a case concerning a missing individual.

The IHC judges’ stance towards the security establishment has perceptibly shifted after they reached out to the Supreme Judicial Council for advice on how to handle perceived intelligence agency intrusions in their proceedings. Their request for guidance was instead directed to the executive branch for investigation by Chief Justice Pakistan Isa.

Also available: IHC Clarifies Position on Agency Operations

Subsequently, when there was reluctance from former Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani to lead an inquiry, a three-judge Supreme Court panel, headed by Justice Isa, took the unusual step of initiating a judicial review of the situation.

Even though Justice Isa has tried to justify the IHC judges’ decision to seek counsel in this matter, he has yet to publicly support their concerns and has questioned why a contempt notice hadn’t been issued for the interference.

The matter remains under deliberation, yet the consensus among the IHC judges is to offer an institutional response to the meddling by intelligence agencies.

Recent court proceedings have shown this united front among the IHC judges.

Counterproductively, government actions have only fueled more controversy rather than defusing the situation, prompting the IHC to start contempt cases, particularly in response to social media campaigns against judges Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani and Justice Babar Sattar.

The IHC has issued detailed rulings on these contempt cases.

In one instance, Justice Sattar took a firm stance when government departments sought his withdrawal from an audio leaks case, not only denying their requests but imposing fines and initiating contempt charges against the applicants.

Related article: IHC Restricts Intelligence Personnel from Courtrooms

Additionally, in the realm of election tribunals, IHC Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri questioned the election results in Islamabad, signaling consequences that could affect election-related cases throughout the provinces.

Amid these developments, various IHC panels have been granting relief to PTI’s founding chairman and former Prime Minister Imran Khan, much to the executive branch’s chagrin.

Currently, in the case of the missing poet, Justice Kayani has expressed grave concerns over the conduct of intelligence agencies, issuing a substantial order on the matter.

This issue of enforced disappearances is concurrently under debate in the apex court as well, with CJP Isa having placed a comprehensive order on the case but refrained from scheduling further hearings.

The disagreement between the security services and the IHC judges dates back to the previous year.

On May 10, 2023, several IHC judges highlighted their grievances by penning a letter urging Chief Justice Aamer Farooq to commence contempt proceedings against intelligence agencies for infringing upon their judicial prerogatives.

In other news: IHC Targets Intelligence Bodies with Contempt Notices

The IHC judges asserted that direct and indirect pressures were exerted on them, with relatives being contacted by intelligence personnel in an attempt to influence court outcomes. The letter detailed situations involving implied threats and probing into personal matters as tactics to sway legal proceedings.

While authorities are said to be seeking reconciliation via backchannels, the judiciary has not responded favorably. A senior lawyer emphasized that judicial independence is non-negotiable and perceived the campaign against the concerned judges as intimidation to force a settlement—a matter which the lawyer believed would not be entertained.

The government is reportedly awaiting the return of CJP Isa and Justice Mansoor Ali Shah to potentially mediate an agreement between the embattled IHC judges and the security establishment.

The legal community now watches to see if CJP Isa will play a pivotal role in this unfolding legal drama.

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