Pakistan Reader# 294, 11 February 2022
Abigail Miriam Fernandez
On 2 February, Justice Umar Ata Bandial took oath as the 28th Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) following the retirement of Justice Gulzar Ahmed who held the position for two years.
Justice Bandial will serve remain in office until 16 September 2023. The task in front of him, in terms of cases to be addressed is huge. According to data, there are more than51,700 cases pending before the Supreme Court, while the overall backlog of cases is about 2.1 million.
Justice Gulzar: A brief note
Justice Gulzar took oath as the CJP in December 2019. During his tenure, he mainly focused on removing encroachments in Karachi. In several judgements, he ordered the demolition of Nasla Tower as well as illegal houses built around Gujjar Nullah. ordered the relevant authorities to end commercial activities on the military land in Karachi, ordered to demolish a mosque and other encroachments built on amenity parks near Tariq Road in Karachi among others. However, his mission of restoring Karachi was not as successful as he hoped it to be, as thousands were left homeless by his encroachment drive.
Justice Gulzar’s tenure also witnessed an increasing fragmentation within the judiciary, which he was not able to fix. However, he will be remembered for nominating LHC’s Justice Ayesha Malik for her appointment as the first female judge of the Supreme Court. Additionally, his efforts to end the sense of insecurity among minority communities is also a point to be noted.
On his retirement he said that he was pleased to have authored verdicts in 4,392 cases as CJP, highlighting that he has reduced the backlog of cases he inherited after taking charge to a large extent.
However, Justice Gulzar was heavily criticised for some of his judgements and work. Senior lawyers termed his anti-encroachment drive as “heartless,” claiming that how he evicted buyers and demolished buildings did not punish the builders or officials but the common man who was deceived into buying the buildings. Additionally, unlike his predecessor, Justice Gulzar has not constituted any larger or special benches comprising by senior-most judges while his critics questioned his selection of judges to hear constitutional and public interest matters.
Who is Justice Bandial? What are his challenges?
Justice Bandial, is from Lahore, and served as the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court (LHC) for two years until his elevation as a judge of the Supreme Court in June 2014. Prior to this, he dealt in cases mostly with commercial, banking, tax and property matters. In 2007, he declined to retake his oath under the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) during Gen Pervez Musharraf rule but was later restored as a judge of the LHC during the PPP government through the Naek formula. (Farooq H Naek had brough out a formula under which the sacked judges including Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry were offered re-appointment)
During his tenure in the Supreme Court as a judge, Justice Bandial delivered several important judgements on issues of public and private law, including pronouncements on civil and commercial disputes, constitutional rights and public interest matters.
Before taking office, Justice Bandial laid out his plan on how the Supreme Court will function. He called on the legal fraternity to assist in saving the apex court’s time by ensuring greater dependence on written briefs, concise statements and arguments by counsel and an end to the practice of seeking adjournments at the time of the hearing. Additionally, he also called on the bar associations to extend support to the court by adding capacity through the elevation of judges. Further, he stated that the ‘scandalisation’ of judges and backlog of undecided cases were the major challenges that the judiciary faced.
With just a little over a year to hold the office, Justice Bandial has four major challenges. The foremost challenge would be to protect the judiciary’s reputation for independence which has previously been threatened. Second, maintaining ties between the bench and bar would pose another challenge given the recent friction between the two. Third, delivering his promise of addressing the backlog of cases in Pakistan’s judiciary. Finally, Justice Bandial is taking over with a divided Supreme Court. The groups within have already affected the working of the court, thus these divisions could pose a big challenge to the new CJP.
Hasnaat Malik, “Justice Gulzar leaves behind a mixed legacy,” The Express Tribune, 31 January 2022
Nasir Iqbal, “Umar Ata Bandial formally named country’s next top judge,” Dawn, 18 January 2022
“Profile: Who is the new Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial?,” Dawn, 2 February 2022
Nasir Iqbal, “Criticise judgements, not judges, says Justice Umar Ata Bandial,” Dawn, 2 February 2022
“Profile: Justice Gulzar Ahmed — the 27th Chief Justice of Pakistan,” Dawn, 21 December 2019
Haseeb Bhatti, “Pleased to have authored over 4,000 judgements during tenure, says CJP Gulzar Ahmed on retirement eve,” Dawn, 1 February 2022
“Focus of CJP-designate on population spurt,” The Express Tribune, 2 February 2022
Hasnaat Maik, “Justice Bandial takes oath as 28th chief justice of Pakistan,” The Express Tribune, 2 February 2022
Yasser Kureshi, “Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed: Master planner or yet another populist judge?,” Dawn, 7 February 2022