Pakistan’s top judge warns government against compromising constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizens for short-term gains
The growing perception in Pakistan that the process of accountability currently being pursued is lopsided and a “part of political engineering” is dangerous and must be corrected so it does not lose all credibility, Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa said on Wednesday.
Addressing the opening ceremony of the new judicial year of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Islamabad, he said that recovery of “stolen wealth” is a noble undertaking but must be advanced through legitimate and legal avenues. “If in the process the constitutional and legal morality of the society and the recognized standards of fairness and impartiality are compromised then retrieval of the lost constitutional and legal morality may pose an even bigger challenge to the society at large in the days to come,” he said, warning the process should not lose sight of political justice while discussing equally important aspects of social and economic justice.
During the wide-ranging speech, the CJP also noted ‘disturbing’ reports of a muzzled media and suppression of dissent. “A voice suppressed or an opinion curbed generates frustration, frustration gives rise to discontent and increasing discontent poses a serious threat to the democratic system itself,” he said, adding that constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizens should never be compromised for short-term advantages. “Democracy requires a long-term approach and tolerance for dissent and without that the system plunges into authoritarianism and we have witnessed plenty of it in the past with disastrous consequences.”
Khosa also noted that Bar representatives had voiced concerns over loss of political space in governance and warned that this situation did not bode well for the future of Pakistan as a constitutional democracy.
The chief justice praised the judiciary’s performance over the past year, noting around 3.68 million cases were decided by around 3,100 judges and magistrates in this time period. The 17 judges of the Supreme Court, he said, decided 16,131 cases in the last year. He also praised the recently launched e-court system, noting it was instrumental in helping the judiciary “discharge its constitutional responsibility of providing expeditious and inexpensive justice.”
The CJP said the court would no longer tolerate any case of false testimony, adding that anyone found lying about one material aspect of a case would be disbelieved in all other aspects of the case. He said that “no meaningful reforms can be introduced in the criminal justice sector unless the police in the country are also reformed” and hailed the Police Reforms Committee for suggesting reforms that had already started showing positive dividends. He said the committee was already working on improving the quality of investigation of criminal cases and was also contemplating enhancing urban policing, effectiveness of anti-terrorism laws, police accountability and integration of the criminal justice system.
Commenting on the Supreme Judicial Council, which is mandated to prove the conducts of senior judges, Khosa said it was “the most unpleasant job” but was a constitutional requirement. He said no member of the SJC could refuse to investigate a judge if directed to do so by the President of Pakistan. “It, however, goes without saying that such a direction to inquire does not, and cannot, control the opinion to be formed by the Council after inquiring into the matter… the Chairman and Members of the Supreme Judicial Council are committed to their oath of office, they work with an unflinching resolve to proceed in all matters ‘without fear or favor, affection or ill-will’ and nobody should expect anything from them other than justice according to law.”
The chief justice said the court was attempting to formulate rules for how and when a court should take up suo motu notices and would adopt themvia a suitable amendment to the Supreme Court Rules, 1980. “I am confident that the said issue shall be settled soon bringing consistency of practice and eliminating arbitrariness and whimsicality in the matter,” he said.
Khosa concluded his speech by referring to some criticism of his court’s lack of suo motu action. He said he believes disapproval of the court’s exercise of restraint was preferable to “criticism over imprudent and undue interventions in such matters.” He added that suo motu at anyone’s behest was self-defeating, as the apex court should never “act at the bidding or demand of any outsider because acting on that basis militates against independence of this Court.”
He said the court had decided to put its own house in order first and that was its primary focus. “At present this Court is practicing judicial activism of a different kind. Instead of judicial activism it is practicing active judicialism. It is taking measures to improve and activate the judicial sector in many ways.”