Pakistan Reader# 268, 7 January 2022
D. Suba Chandran
According to the Rule of Law index by the World Justice Project, Pakistan’s rank has been sliding to the bottom performers reaching up to the rank of 126 in the year 2021. It is beyond doubt that the judicial system in South Asian countries is plagued by limited elite families in judiciary tradition and Pakistan as well suffers from such issues. The issue gets exaggerated when the tools and methods for delivering justice are used for meeting political ends and that only. The year 2021 was another period to litmus test the judiciary of its integrity and capability to deliver justice when all other public institutions are facing erosion of trust.
The political context
The Sharifs who had been the primary victims of judicial purview had some respite this year as Maryam Nawaz Sharif was held not guilty against the charges of non-declared assets in the Avenfield case. Previously the same institution was partisan in convicting Maryam and prohibiting her to contest in 2018 general elections in Pakistan. The year witnessed several counter-facts against the judges who were part of the bench which delivered judgment against both father and daughter Sharif, be it the leaked audio of previous CJP Saqib Nisar in presence of Rana Shamim to a NAB judge in colluding with larger forces to prevent the Sharif from participating in 2018 elections. And then the publicly filed affidavit filed by Justice Rana Shamim by which he stood by his stance. The deliberate ignorance to let politics prevail over justice backfired this year from various sections including political parties, the bar association and even the religious extremists. Even the to be CJP Justice Faiz Isa was part of propaganda against the judiciary when his source of income and his wife’s role were put under probe by FBR. He fought back with all the filed tax returns and a clear record of assets. It is interesting to note that it was Justice Faiz Isa who had denied bail continuously to former PM Nawaz Sharif in recent cases against him.
The bar association and its grievances
During Asma Jahangir conference this year, Supreme Court Bar Association president Ali Ahmad Kurd was painful in confessing the role played by the judiciary in aggravating the problems the country suffers from. He alleged that security institutions interference in judicial matters was a matter of concern for the democratic idealists in the country. The same conference witnessed sloganeering from young lawyers, they were heard shouting ‘azaadi’ from various amorphous forces in the country. The same bar association has been protesting against the approval of Justice Ayesha Malik to become a supreme court judge as seniority rule is ignored and subjective meritocracy is preferred. The bar association was hostile to judicial offices when illegally constructed offices of lawyers from where they practised were demolished on court orders. A strike call was given to lawyer bodies when their demands were not heeded to.
The business as usual?
Recently Election Commission of Pakistan reported that PTI, the current ruling party had not disclosed all the sources of its funding and hid funds worth millions of rupees from the ECP. The investigation into this matter makes the role of ECP very important in maintaining transparency and ethical conduct while contesting for election. The Supreme Court in its recent judgement empowered the members of ECP by reinterpreting the law and removing the bar of two years post judicial career and hence providing the ECP members with longer tenure. Another landmark judgment was when Justice Ayesha Malik did away with the two-finger virginity test for victims of rape and sexual abuse. So the judiciary is looking in both the directions, past and future while conveniently ignoring the present status quo of things, it remains rooted in elite capture of judicial posts yet slowly it is taking Pakistan towards a more accountable future.
“Pakistan judiciary, bar association lock horns,” The Pioneer, 21 November 2021
Malik Asad, “Lawyers go on rampage after demolition of chambers,” Dawn, 9 February 2021
Nausheen Yusuf, “ECP scrutiny committee says PTI hid funds worth millions of rupees,” The News International¸ 4 January 2022
Iftikhar A Khan, “SC ruling to help retired judges join ECP earlier than two years,” Dawn, 19 December 2021
Nadeem Farooq Paracha, “An Era Of Judicial Populism,” The Friday Times, 26 November 2021
Tariq Bashir, “Year Ender | In The Eye Of The Storm: Pakistan’s Judiciary In 2021,” The Friday Times, 31 December 2021
“How LHC Righted A Wrong By Abolishing Two-Finger Test For Rape Survivors,” Naya Daur, 10 January 2021