Perception of ‘one-sided accountability’ dangerous: CJP


–Khosa says SJC is independent forum, no one can influence its proceedings

–Top judge reacts to reports of growing censorship, says it will harm democracy in the long run

ISLAMABAD: As concerns regarding one-sided accountability being part of “political engineering” continue to take hold of the country’s landscape, Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa on Wednesday expressed caution, saying such “perception” can have a dangerous impact and relevant steps should be taken to address it.

Addressing a full-court ceremony on Wednesday marking the new judicial year at the Supreme Court, he said the Supreme Court—as a relevant organ of state— thinks urgent steps needed “urgently so that the [accountability] process does not lose credibility”.

“Recovery of stolen wealth is a noble cause…if in the process the constitutional and legal morality of the society and the recognised standards of fairness and impartiality are compromised then retrieval of the lost constitutional and legal morality may pose an even bigger challenge,” said Justice Khosa.

He also mentioned shrinking space of dissent in the country, an opt-repeated concern of bar associations across the country.

“Such concerns cannot be ignored,” says the top judge, adding that “such loss of political space may not augur well for the future of the country as a constitutional democracy”.

He said the reports of growing censorship are “disturbing” and such practices are a “serious threat to the democratic system itself”.

“Constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizens ought never to be compromised for the sake of short-term political or governance advantages.”

Speaking about the proceedings against judges in the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), he said it was the “most unpleasant job”. “Nonetheless, it is a constitutional duty they cannot refuse to perform,” he added.

“The Constitution empowers the president to direct the council to inquire into the conduct of a judge and the council cannot disregard such a constitutionally mandated direction. It, however, goes without saying that such a direction to inquire does not, and cannot, control the opinion to be formed by the Council after inquiring into the matter,” said Justice Khosa in a clear reference to SC judge Qazi Faez Isa and the Sindh High Court (SHC) judge KK Agha cases.

He said 56 privately-instituted complaints/information were pending before the Supreme Judicial Council at the start of the last judicial year in September 2018 and 102 more complaints were filed before the council.

149 of such complaints were duly processed and disposed of by the council during the last judicial year and at present nine references are pending, including two references filed by President Alvi, the CJP added.

Justice Khosa said: “In three out of the four complaints instituted before filing of the presidential references different steps were already being taken in terms of the prescribed procedure before the presidential references were filed and in the 4th such complaint proceedings of the Council had already been stopped because of pendency of the same matter/issue before the Supreme Court on its judicial side.”

“As regards the two presidential references different steps have already been taken by the council and in the remaining 3 complaints/information received by the council after filing of the presidential references, some progress has already been made in terms of the requisite procedure,” the CJP said.

“These details have been shared by me with you in the broadest terms in order to quell any misgiving or apprehension entertained in that regard by any quarter.”

“The data shared with you would show that the council is a body which remains quite active throughout the year but, for obvious reasons, it operates silently.”

Speaking about suo motu powers of the apex court, he cleared it would be used for issues of national importance only. Reportedly, the top judge said he was well aware of the fact that a fraction of the society was unhappy over the court’s ‘lack of interest’ in judicial activism.

He said the same segment of society used to criticise judicial activism in the past. He said instead of judicial activism, the Supreme Court was promoting the “functional judicialism”.

“Decision has been made to put the house in order. We reckon that to refrain from taking suo motu notices is safer and less harmful,” he said.

Speaking about the number of cases, the top judge said efforts were afoot to reduce the burden of pending cases.

He said model courts were set up in 116 districts of the country for dispensation of instant and inexpensive justice, adding that the number of “military cases in Quetta and Karachi Registry of the Supreme Court has also reached zero”.

He said the military cases in SC’s Islamabad bench will also be disposed of in a few days. The chief justice said a research centre will be established at the apex court.

The chief justice said, under the Expeditious Justice Initiative, Model Family Courts and Model Rent Courts are being established in every district of the country.

He said under this initiative, Gender-based Violence Courts have also been established throughout the country and about one hundred judges of trial courts were being imparted training in the field with the assistance of the Asian Development Bank.

The chief justice said the SC also decided to introduce the artificial intelligence system and that active consultations were already afoot with different expert bodies in this regard. He said the apex court started the e-Court system to help early disposal of cases.

He noticed: “At the beginning of the last judicial year, the number of pending cases stood at 1.8 million which, according to the Law and Justice Commission, has now dropped to a little over 1.7 million.”