Reforming the judiciary

At the full court reference on the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Rahmat Hussain Jafferi, Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry said that strengthening the judiciary is integral for the survival of democracy in case some extra-constitutional forces strike the political set-up. CJ Chaudhry’s words should strike a blow to all the undemocratic forces lurking in the shadows for an unconstitutional move to oust the government. The PPP-led coalition government has been in trouble with the judiciary ever since the restoration of the deposed judiciary. Cases pertaining to the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) in the past and now the 18th Amendment soured relations between the executive and the judiciary. Thus, the CJ’s words could not have come at a better time. Justice Chaudhry talked about tackling corruption in the judiciary and rightly said that accountability is necessary. It is hoped that the honourable CJ is able to eradicate the menace of corruption, especially in the lower courts, so that the common man is able to get justice without paying any ‘price’ for it.

Asma Jahangir, President Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), commended the CJ for summoning the intelligence agencies’ chiefs in the case pertaining to the 11 ‘missing’ prisoners from Adiala Jail. Our intelligence agencies have always operated in a culture of impunity and believe that they can get away with anything and everything. The apex court’s orders have given a clear message that the highhandedness of the security establishment needs to be buried for good. Ms Jahangir also talked about adopting a principle that retired judges of the superior courts should not accept an appointment that is lower than their last-held post. It would indeed set a good precedent if Ms Jahangir’s advice is adhered to and it should not just include appointments outside the superior judiciary but also within. Ms Jahangir also asked that specific guidelines should be followed when taking up issues of public interest. This is important since we have seen that some petitions lie around in the courts for years while some are taken up very quickly. Does this constitute equity, justice and equal treatment? Ms Jahangir also pointed out the plight of the seven judges who have been held in contempt after the July 31 judgement that declared General Musharraf’s November 3, 2007 emergency and the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) as unconstitutional. She expressed the hope that the apex court would address this issue soon.

Ms Jahangir has raised some very important issues that need to be addressed for proper judicial reform, something that this country has been waiting for for a long time. Retiring Justice Rahmat Hussain Jafferi, who is one of those judges who have always upheld principles, would surely approve of these suggestions.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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