Talk of another ‘intervention’

Chief Justice (CJ) of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry has stressed that all state institutions should work within their given parameters. He said that the superior judiciary has a “unique responsibility to ensure that all branches of the state are functioning within their jurisdiction” and “if any institution crosses its limits, then the judiciary has the authority to intervene”. CJ Chaudhry is right in asking all state institutions to stay within their limits. What is worrying though is the use of the word ‘intervene’. For the past few weeks, the country has been up in arms because of MQM chief Altaf Hussain’s open call for military intervention. That furore had hardly died down and now CJ Chaudhry has talked of judicial intervention. No one can doubt the integrity and sincerity of Chief Justice Chaudhry, but issuing such statements at this point in time may create further unnecessary panic in an already grief-stricken country. Since the 2008 elections, the incumbents have been engulfed in one crisis or another while the anti-democratic forces are at work to destabilise this government. After nine years of rule by a military dictator, we should be glad to have a people’s representative government back in our midst. Instead, we have been giving it a hard time.

There are no two opinions on allowing a state institution to transgress its powers or misuse them for any vested interest. However, the same rule should be applied to the superior judiciary as well. CJ Chaudhry raised a pertinent point by saying that “any act contrary to law or the constitution is ultra vires of the constitution”. Going by this statement, the Supreme Court may wish to revisit the hearing of petitions against the 18th Amendment that has already been passed by parliament. CJ Chaudhry himself admitted that the superior courts’ judges are under oath to “preserve, protect and defend the constitution”. Thus the respected judiciary should be careful not to give an impression of going against the constitution and wasting the court’s precious time in hearing petitions that have no space according to the law of the land. As per Article 239(5) of our constitution: “No amendment of the Constitution shall be called in question in any court on any ground whatsoever.” “Physician, heal thyself” is an old adage and can be applied to the judiciary too, which should respect the fact that in a democratic country, parliament is supreme and its constitutional amendments cannot be challenged. If the superior judiciary, at any point in time, thinks that a state institution is crossing its constitutional limits, it can give a verdict or suggestion to correct the matter. The independence of the judiciary is an integral part of the state system, but that independence too must be exercised with responsibility. The respectable justices have assured on a number of occasions that they are great supporters of democracy. Seemingly the superior judiciary has no ulterior motives in hearing the petitions against the 18th Amendment but there have been some noises from the PPP-led government’s quarters that these petitions too are part of plans to destabilise this government. Democracy in Pakistan is in its nascent stages and as we celebrated International Day of Democracy yesterday (September 15), we should vow not to indulge in destabilisation games.

On another note, the judiciary has done a good job by taking suo motu notices of many an important issue but it should not overly burden itself with such cases alone. The huge backlog of cases must be taken care of because justice has been conspicuous by its absence for far too long because of delays.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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