Government files references against judges in Supreme Judicial Council



Islamabad – In a startling development, the federal government has filed complaints of ‘misconduct’ against two superior courts’ judges in connection with their alleged purchase of properties abroad that were undeclared in their income tax and wealth statements.

While the unconfirmed story was circulating on social media, and was being hotly discussed on chat boards and drawing rooms on Iftar dinners, for the past few days, no major paper had picked up. It was also not clear if government has filed the references or was still mulling over it.

Now, Pakistan’s prominent English daily – The Express Tribune – has reported, in the morning of May 28, that President Arif Alvi has sent the references of misconduct against the judges to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) for allegedly not declaring their foreign properties in their wealth statements. However, the paper added, there is no official confirmation whether the SJC has received the reference seeking disqualification of the judges or not.

An official of the law ministry told the newspaper that the references were prepared within the law ministry. The newspaper has reported that services of a former Supreme Court judge – who had taken an oath under November 3, 2007, under Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) – were hired for preparing and filing of the reference.

In October 2018, the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar had told media that ARU officials would investigate thousands of properties abroad held by Pakistanis.


Attorney General Assists Supreme Judicial Council
The officials in the law ministry and the offices of the Advocate General for Pakistan (AGP) have, on condition of strict confidentiality, confirmed the developments to the Global Village Space (GVS). While sources in the AGP office remained tight lipped if the Attorney General has seen the reference, other sources familiar with the development insist that AGP has not only seen the reference but has also examined and has given its opinion on the references. If Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) decides to issue notices then office of Attorney General will have a role in the trial and prosecution.

Sources privy to the development told GVS that the newly constituted Asset Recovery Unit (ARU) comprising the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) officials have discovered the properties that were purchased in the United Kingdom – after receiving a compliant from within the UK. The ARU investigation has revealed that all four properties were located in London and purchased between 2005 and 2013.

Sources have revealed to GVS, that the three London properties were purchased by the wife of a senior judge of the Supreme Court between 2011 and 2013 and one London property was purchased by a Sindh High Court judge in 2005. According to the sources, the Supreme Court judge’s wife has Spanish nationality, the legal experts said it would be interesting to see if the spouse was listed as a dependent or not in the tax records of the judge. Legal questions may arise if judge was bound to declare properties, held in the name of his wife if she holds a foreign nationality.

The Express Tribune had stated that one of the judges against whom the reference has been filed is a Supreme Court judge whose wife allegedly purchased property in Spain, which was not disclosed in his wealth statement. But sources talking to GVS insist that reference relates to properties in London and not Spain.

Sindh High Court Judge
Separately, sources told GVS that a judge of the Sindh High Court also has properties in his own name in London. It has been reported that a complaint has also been filed against a few high courts judges. Another source confirms that the judge of Sindh High Court may have lived in the UK for long and may have bought properties during that time period. But a lawyer talking to GVS asserts that judges being important public office holders, making important decisions on public and private matters affecting businesses, need to declare all their properties in their wealth statements and not declaring raises all kinds of difficult questions.

Surprisingly, sources told GVS, when the properties were detected by the ARU and the law ministry sent the references to the Prime Minister Imran Khan, a puzzled premier had sent the references back with directions to again verify the same.

The Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) – a constitutional body tasked with scrutinizing the conduct of superior court judges – is comprised of the chief justice of Pakistan as chairman.
Sources said that the law ministry rechecked the facts and record available with the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and resent the references to the PM. Subsequently, PM Khan gave approval for filing of the references and forwarded them to the president. Law Ministry filed the reference after the approval of the president last week on Thursday or Friday.

ARU to Investigate Thousands of Properties Abroad
In October 2018, the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar had told media that ARU officials would investigate thousands of properties abroad held by Pakistanis.

Akbar had said that details of over 10,000 properties in Dubai and England had been received, adding that details of at least half of the 10,000 properties were previously available but no action was taken.

After selecting the members of the ARU, he had said, notices were issued for 300 properties from the list. In addition, he said, the list had been divided into two parts, one for politically exposed people, and one for other citizens. The ARU submits a fortnightly progress report to the Supreme Court.

Supreme Judicial Council: Members & Functioning
The Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) – a constitutional body tasked with scrutinizing the conduct of superior court judges – is comprised of five members. These include the chief justice of Pakistan as chairman, another second senior most judge of the Supreme Court and three most senior chief justices of high courts as members. The Registrar of the Supreme Court acts as its Secretary. Supreme Judicial Council has no separate secretariat of its own; it relies upon the office of the Chief Justice of Pakistan for its functions and working.

On a reference received from the president or through suo-moto action, the SJC investigates the matter and presents its finding to the president. If the council decides that the judge is incapable of performing the duties of the office or is guilty of misconduct, and therefore should be removed from office, the president may order the removal of such judge.

The council had unanimously opined that while delivering the speech before the District Bar Association in Rawalpindi on July 21, Justice Siddiqui had displayed the conduct unbecoming of a high court judge.
Importantly, a judge may not be removed from service except on the specified grounds and subject to the prescribed procedure. Chief Justice of Pakistan decides if reference constitutes material sufficient for issuing notices.

IHC Judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui Sacked
In October 2018, President Arif Alvi had removed Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui as judge of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on the recommendation of the SCJ.

The president took the decision under Article 209(5) on the SJC recommendation under Article 209(6) read with Article 48(1) of the Constitution. The council had unanimously opined that while delivering the speech before the District Bar Association in Rawalpindi on July 21, Justice Siddiqui had displayed the conduct unbecoming of a high court judge.

The five members of the Supreme Judicial Council was led by the then chief justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar. Other judges on the panel included: Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, Justice Gulzar Ahmad, Lahore High Court’s Chief Justice Yawar Ali and Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court Justice Ahmed Ali Sheikh.


The 37-page report recommending the IHC judge’s removal was authored by the Justice Khosa, who is now the Chief Justice of Pakistan. Since 1962, when the SJC was formed, only West Pakistan High Court judge Shaukat Ali was removed over misconduct before Justice Siddiqui. He was also found guilty of ‘acting in a manner unbecoming of a judge’ by the SJC in July 1971.

SJC Scraps Proceedings after LHC Judge named in Panama Papers Resigns
In April this year, Justice Mohammad Farrukh Irfan Khan of the Lahore High Court (LHC) tendered his resignation before the SJC’s inquiry against him could be concluded. The senior judge, who had been working as LHC judge since February 20, 2010, sent his resignation to President Alvi.

Justice Irfan was facing a reference on misconduct after his name surfaced in the Panama Papers’ list of individuals having properties abroad and allegedly involved in money laundering. The SJC had issued a show-cause notice to the judge and conducted a few hearings but wrapped up the proceedings after it was informed of his resignation.