Pak: Supreme Court halts hearing on top judge

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Islambad, May 14: A hearing into a petition by Pakistan's suspended chief justice against an inquiry into misconduct allegations against him was halted today after one of 14 judges on the bench refused hear the case.

''This bench will be reconstituted, may be tomorrow,'' Tariq Mehmood, a lawyer for suspended Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, told sources.

The delay marks the latest twist in a judicial crisis that has gripped Pakistan for the past two months, and represents the greatest challenge to President Pervez Musharraf's authority since he took power in a military coup in 1999.

Justice Falak Sher, a member of the 14-judge bench, raised objections over the constitution of the bench saying several judges were junior to him.

The Supreme Court was due to hear several petitions regarding the composition of a panel of five judges, known as the Supreme Judicial Council, that has been hearing the government's undisclosed allegations against Chaudhry.

Among other issues, the petitions maintain that some of the judges on the panel are biased, and that the Supreme Judicial Council had not been formed in accordance with the constitution.

The council's inquiry has been halted, pending a decision from a full bench of the Supreme Court.

The legal fraternity has united behind Chaudhry after Musharraf suspended him on March 9. Lawyers and many judges saw the move as an attack on the independence of the judiciary.

Pakistan's political opposition have also rallied to the chief justice's cause, and in the past week ordinary people have shown their sympathy for the judge by coming out on to the streets.

Chaudhry had to abort a visit to Karachi at the weekend, never leaving the city's airport, as violence broke out between pro-government and opposition supporters. Nearly 40 people were killed.


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