Media asked not to comment on SJC proceedings
By Nasir Iqbal
ISLAMABAD, Sept 4: The Supreme Judicial Council, which is hearing a number of references on misconduct against superior court judges, took an unusual step on Friday of clamping a ban on the media from commenting on its proceedings.
“The council is pleased to order that in view of the sanctity of proceedings of the council, the media is also directed not to comment on the case except information given by the council through press release or with the prior permission of the council,” an SC announcement said, citing desire of the SJC meeting held last month.
Some lawyers favoured the ban while some described it as against freedom of speech.
The council had on Aug 29 summoned Justice Mohammad Afzal Soomro, a judge of the Sindh High Court, who is facing two references under Article 209 of the Constitution, but had dropped similar proceedings against a Lahore High Court judge who had recently resigned.
Justice Soomro dismissed the notice served on him by the council and described it as “obviously biased” and “prejudiced”. He also filed a counter-reference against the former SHC chief justice.
“The ban seems to have been placed to prevent unsavoury and scandalous stories in media in relation to proceedings of the council,” a senior lawyer said.
He said the ban intended to pre-empt the press talk of Justice Soomro, who after attending SJC proceedings may talk to reporters waiting outside the Supreme Court.
Nadeem Ahmed, a renowned corporate and constitutional lawyer, favoured the move, saying it was in line with the spirit of the constitution.
The SJC is hearing references on misconduct against sitting judges in accordance with a decision taken by the 14-judge Supreme Court on July 31 to refer to the SJC cases of those who took oath under the PCO on Nov 3, 2007.
Until a judge facing reference before the council is removed, Advocate Nadeem explained, whatever transpired inside the council should not be debated in public.
The council, which is a constitutional body, has the same discretion as enjoyed by the Supreme Court and can summon anybody or initiate proceedings for committing contempt, he said.
Advocate Naseer Ahmed Chaudhry said that a fair comment was always permissible as guaranteed by the Constitution in Article 19 (freedom of speech).
“Freedom of speech is after all a right to free comment,” he said adding fair comment could not be curbed.