In a reactionary move Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui facing Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) references on misconduct had sought open trial. Where Justice Siddiqui’s counsel argued that the proceedings should be held in the open because the judge against whom a finding of misconduct was recorded was rendered stigmatised for life, the SC ruled that the SJC, while amenable to conducting an open hearing still reserves the right to demand an-in-camera trial.

Where Justice Siddiqui’s remarks against the army are in effect challenging the status quo, his petition relies on further involving ‘the court of the people’ through demanding an open trial. Relying on the ex-CJ Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s case in which the court had held that proceedings before the SJC were not a trial, the question had remained whether such proceedings were to be conducted in open or in-camera, denying the right of a public hearing to judges being proceeded against by the council. Where the charges against the judge stand to be damaging in this political climate, regardless of the stipulation of an in-camera trial, bringing in the element of public fervor and ire can be a powerful weapon to wield.

While the SJC is declared a domestic disciplinary tribunal whose ‘proceedings are administrative in nature and recommendatory in effect’, the fact remains that on the recommendation by the SJC judges can be effectively removed. In this case the judge has no review, appeal or revision against such a recommendation. Where any negative ruling would add to the gag order that is imposed on speaking out against the dominant narrative, the fact remains that the accused Judge has the right to demand an open trial.

The argument holds true that in a democratic society the public had the right to know why a high constitutional functionary was being proceeded against and the judge had the right to defend himself in the open court. In-camera proceedings run the risk of obfuscating due justice and should be applied to dire cases that demand privacy, like rape cases, cases against minors or the mentally ill.

It will be hard to counter the call for transparency, when the judge himself is demanding a public hearing. The decision also gives credence to the fundamental rights of the petitioner judge, and the independence of judiciary as a collective institution, as well as the right of the public to access information. For now, the SJC holds the power to demand an in-camera trial at will, which if exercised will stave off any attempt by the judge to bring a public audience to take up arms in his favor.