ISLAMABAD  -    The Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) on Friday conducted the proceeding to scrutinise Presidential References against Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice KK Agha amid the protest and sit-in by hundreds of lawyers at the Supreme Court.

In its first hearing, the Attorney General for Pakistan Anwar Mansoor Khan appeared before the SJC during the in-camera proceeding to assist the Council on maintainability of the references.

The references allege Supreme Court judge Faez Isa and Sindh High Court (SHC) judge KK Agha of not declaring their foreign assets in their wealth returns.

The members of SJC, chaired by its CJP Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, included Supreme Court judges Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, SHC Chief Justice Ahmed Ali Sheikh and Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Waqar Ahmed Seth.

Since it was a preliminary hearing only for the purpose of scrutinizing the contents of the reference, the show up of 250 to 350 lawyers, under the banner of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan (SCBAP) and Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), could be termed as considerable number.

The main entrance of the Supreme Court premises was blocked and chairs were placed inside and outside of the building. The protest started when the benches assembled.

Like in the past, the lawyers however did not affect the running of cases. Interestingly, the two major groups of bars’ politics   the Professional Lawyers Group known as Hamid Khan Group and the Independent Lawyers Group known as Asma Jahangir Group   were seen sitting together in the sit-in.

As the hearing before SJC started, all lawyers took to main entrance of Supreme Court and chanted slogans against the government and in favour of Justice Isa.

The hearing before SJC continued for at least one and half hour. Attorney General, however, restrained to speak about the proceeding before SJC and left the Supreme Court from judges’ block after sitting for nearly three hours in his office.

The protesting lawyers also waited for long to hear the SJC decision. However, they dispersed peacefully after a joint press conference of PBC vice chairman and SCBAP president.

They both thanked the lawyers for showing up against the reference, saying the sit-in and protest was meant to uphold the sanctity of judiciary. They added that they will announce their further strategy after the outcome of SJC proceedings.

More on the protest

Senior leader of ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Advocate Hamid Khan also participated in the sit-in to record his protest against his own party on the issue of references. Prominent leaders of different bars including Ali Ahmed Kurd, Rashid A Rizvi, Qalb-e-Hassan, Yaseen Azad, Shoaib Shaheen and others also remained active.

Participants of the protest believed that the reference against SHC judge KK Agha was cosmetic and the main target was Supreme Court’s Justice Qazi Faez Isa. They pointed out that before filing of a reference a review petition was filed by the PTI on Faizabad sit-in judgment, wherein Justice Isa not only charge-sheeted the PTI but also made a scathing criticism of the military establishment.

Moreover, they said that the purpose of reference was to somehow do away with the judge who is in line to become chief justice in 2023, the year of next general election.

Former SCBAP President Yaseen Azad told The Nation that the reference has been filed by a so-called elected government on behalf of the establishment in the backdrop of Faizabad sit-in judgment. Terming the reference mala fide, Advocate Azad said the government sent a reference against a judge “who is most honest one”.

“He (Justice Isa) is independent, honest and has never compromised on principles,” he said, adding that those who rule this country directly or indirectly do not tolerate dissents.

Azad also criticised Law Minister Farogh Naseem and Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan for their role in dividing the legal fraternity.

“In order to divide the lawyers, they are offering them lucrative posts which is a gross misconduct,” he added, warning them both of minding their limits. SCBAP President Kanrani and other lawyers symbolically burnt the copies of the references and chanted slogans against the government. Addressing a press conference, he said that the voice of legal fraternity is being suppressed but the unity between the PBC and the SCBA is visible to all. He said that the PBC has constituted an action committee and all associations are bound to follow its decisions. He also announced that PBC Vice Chairman Amjad Shah will lead the lawyers’ protest movement.

Talking to media, the enraged Ali Ahmed Kurd said that the lawyers could not be defeated, adding that the democracy is surviving only because of lawyers. “It is not the issue of a judge or Balochistan rather it is an issue of judiciary and legal fraternity,” he said. The government want to deliver a message to other judges and lawyers are here to refrain the government from doing so, said Kurd. He also regretted that a small group of lawyers is attempting to sabotage the strike on someone’s whims.

Former Senate chairman and Pakistan People Party Leader Raza Rabbani also visited the Supreme Court to show solidarity with the lawyers. Talking to media, he criticised the government and said attempts were being made to materialise the incomplete agenda of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.