Pakistan Reader# 671, 19 September 2023
On 18 September, The Supreme Court (Practice & Procedure) Act 2023, suspension of enforcement was implicitly overturned by the newly sworn in Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Qazi Faez Isa, who also ordered a live stream of the entire hearing by the full court bench consisting of all 15 judges. The fact that all private TV stations broadcasted the case was a first in the nation's legal history. Following the hearing, CJP Isa stated his intention to uphold transparency and accountability, stating that he does not desire such powers that would render him not liable. Additionally, he remarked that while he disliked some laws the sanctity of the legislation and the parliament must be respected.
How is Pakistan responding to Justice Isa?
An editorial in Dawn “The Isa epoch”, President Arif Alvi, who had earlier filed a referral against the Supreme Court judge due to alleged wrongdoing and non-disclosure of assets, administered the oath himself, which added to the event's ironic optics. It was a historic moment that communicated "a clear message of steadfastness" because the new chief justice's wife was standing by his side, according to one participant. The ceremony was telecasted live where the op-ed states it as a positive beginning and an indication that Chief Justice Isa is eager to forge a route firmly grounded in jurisprudential integrity rather than the shifting sands of populism that ruined his predecessor's term.
Similarly, an opinion in The News International “The Age of The Qazi”, expressed that CJP is the oldest among the republic's senior wisemen and hence there is no place for retaliation, hinting at the previous allegations against him and his family. The writer stresses that he must essentially conduct himself in a manner, as though there had never been any attempt to harm. The significance of his position should not be determined by the stature of who came before him but rather by the values and the aspiration of Pakistan's founders and its defenders, attorneys, constitutionalists, and judges. CJP Isa is responsible to sustain harmony inside the Supreme Court of Pakistan by elevating the judiciary as an institution above himself.
Finally, an editorial in The Express Tribune “Televised full court”, looked into the live telecast of the full court hearing against the Practices and Procedure Act. The writer applauded the Supreme Court's ability to participate in various conflicting discourses as well as block any attempts by the parliament to meddle in the business of the superior courts. It is a tremendous consolation that the judiciary has secured itself a promising role in the public domain by the landmark decision.
Legal experts have applauded the Supreme Court's decision to broadcast its deliberations live on television, but they have also cautioned that the decision does have some setbacks. Lawyer Abdul Moiz Jaferii stated that the live streaming of court proceedings “is a brilliant start and the fulfilment of a long-standing position of CJ Isa which had come through during his petition against the reference against him. The majority had at the time decided that matters of fundamental importance ought to be televised, but that the modalities were to be decided by the administrative side of the Supreme Court, which never met on the issue. On 18 September the full court met on the administrative side before this hearing and perhaps the same premise was decided upon which allowed the televising to be possible”.
Supreme Court advocate Basil Nabi Malik also lauded the Chief Justice for the “step towards greater transparency” but cautioned that “greater transparency should not be confused with greater publicity. Every judge must cater to the ends of justice without any care or consideration for any broadcast or lack thereof. Furthermore, every judge must be cautious not to get carried away with the access (the court) now enjoys with a greater audience, and in having such access, it must ensure it does not pander to the sentiments of the general populace more so than the facts of the case before it.” Lawyer Jahanzeb Sukhera calls the live streaming “an interesting experiment” and says it “gives the taxpayers an inside view of the functioning of the judicial branch and a clearer picture of proceedings”, he adds his cautionary advice to Malik's. Sukhera asserts that there are various concerns to consider, one of which “is that this may cause more camera induced grandstanding from both the bar and the bench. Instead of arguments and observations being limited to the extent necessary to decide a matter, we may slip into unnecessary theatrics. It may also increase the possibility of more judgments being rendered on the consideration of public perception.”
Abdul Qayyum Siddiqui & Maryam Nawaz & Sohail Khan, “I don’t want absolute powers: CJP Isa,” The News International, 19 September 2023
Zebunnisa Burki, “Lawyers praise move to live telecast proceedings but also highlight risks,” The News International, 19 September 2023
Mosharraf Zaidi, “The Age of The Qazi,” The News International, 19 September 2023)
“Live from the SC,” The News International, 19 September 2023
Nasir Iqbal, “SC goes live as full court tackles controversial law,” Dawn, 19 September 2023
“The Isa epoch,” Dawn, 19 September 2023
Hasnaat Malik, “Justice Isa makes history on his first day,” The Express Tribune, 19 September 2023
“Televised full court,” The Express Tribune, 19 September 2023