A reference has been filed in the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) against Islamabad High Court (IHC) judge, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui by the district bar association for a speech he made at a meeting held by the bar association.

The bar association’s concerns against the speech – made without a formal invitation to do so – has landed the justice in the limelight for ‘criticising bar members in the speech and questioning a decision of the Supreme Court at the meeting. While criticising the bar council is not a crime, given the nature of professional politics in Pakistan, perhaps it is advisable that their lordships abstain from such informal interactions.

Justice Siddiqui’s name has been in news reports before. In April, reportedly, former director of the Capital Development Authority filed a reference in the SJC against the judge for allegedly misusing his authority and pressurising CDA to build a pigeon case on the rooftop of his state-allotted house – according to the petition, a house he was said to have changed thrice and got renovated once, with the total bill running as high as Rs12 million. This reference is still pending.

Some decisions issued were also widely discussed at the time. In 2015, the Justice Siddiqui declared all katchi abadis in and around the federal capital as illegal, leading to the potential displacement of over 80,000 people. This decision was lauded by government, and protested by civil society activists and human rights lawyers. In 2012, the IHC, under Justice Siddiqui, declared fuel adjustment charges levied retrospectively by electric power distribution companies (Discos) as void, a popular decision among consumers, but one that was overturned by an IHC bench a year later. The decisions a judge takes are beyond reproach and must be trusted to be in the legal and moral interest of the community. Thus, a decision being overturned by the SC does not mean that the IHC judge’s faculties are in question. It is a mischievous and dangerous precedence to use this example to tarnish the reputation of a sitting justice.

The position of a justice of the court is more sacrosanct than even higher offices in terms of authority such as the Prime Minister or the President. This is because any holder of political office or in any other state institution is considered human, fallible and capable of getting swayed or succumbing to political pressure. But the office of a judge is principally beyond that, which is why a reference filed against a judge is a grave undertaking.

The reference against Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui’s case straddles the thin line between law and politics. The reference risks tarnishing the office of the IHC, and throws into question his past performance. While his decisions during his time at the IHC are above reproach, what a Judge says and does outside of the court is perhaps not. The matter now rests in the SJC’s hands – and whatever decision it takes, the public can only hope that it looks to protect the moral authority of the courts in the process.