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Review: Law for change

June 23, 2013

Reviewed by Mamoon Chaudhry

Compiled as a tribute to the great jurist and human rights activist, Justice Sabihuddin Ahmed, Law in a World of Change consists of essays and treatises from senior lawyers, academics of international repute and serving and retired judges of the apex courts.

The foreword is by Muneer A. Malik, former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, who played a pivotal role in the lawyers’ movement and was a longtime friend of Justice Ahmed. He notes that Justice Ahmed appeared in hundreds of cases without charging any remuneration and believed in law as a tool of social change which needs to be interpreted in the context of changing times. Malik writes that “Justice Ahmed often lamented the lack of serious and academic critique of precedent and contemporary decisions because he was of the firm view that the real development of the law takes place in the halls and libraries of the formal seats and sources of learning — the law schools, the law reviews and university academics.”

Senior journalist and human rights activist I.A. Rehman, in his essay ‘Sabihuddin’s Passion for Human Rights,’ points out that Justice Ahmed was the pioneer member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and played a substantial role in identifying the groups and communities which were most vulnerable to human rights abuses. He notes that Justice Ahmed “looked upon the rule of law and justice not only as essential attributes of civilised governance but also, and more importantly, as inalienable rights of the people.”

Senior advocate Khalid Jawed Khan in the essay ‘Messiah for the Distressed’ asserts that Justice Ahmed recognised that the doctrine of master and servant is an anachronism prevailing in our legal system and needs to be clipped. The courts have evolved the doctrine of master and servant in order to expand the powers of the employers. The premise of the doctrine is that an unwanted employee cannot be hoisted on an unwilling employer. Khan explains that the application of the doctrine to the employees causes grave injustice as the litigants are precluded from availing legal remedies.

Landmark judgements authored by Justice Ahmed in the cases of Shahid Mahmood and Muhammad Dawood reinvigorated the aspirations of the employees of public corporations. The judgment passed in the Dawood case benefited hundreds of employees. It was held in the judgment that the High Court is vested with the powers to examine the legitimacy of the actions of the corporations and no adverse action can be taken against an employee without ensuring the due process of law. Khan poignantly notes that “Had life been a little more generous to him and to the hapless litigants who come to courts in their moments of distress, he would have pruned away many of the archaic branches which still pervade our laws.”

Babar Sattar in the piece ‘Towards Unadulterated Constitutionalism: The Need for Simultaneous Activism and Restraint’ notes with concern that historically our apex judiciary has served the need of military dictators by abandoning its duty to uphold the constitution and by failing to check the contraventions by the executives. Nevertheless, he adds, the judgment passed in the PCO Judges case has heralded a new beginning in our constitutional jurisprudence as the judiciary has admitted its past errors and has laid down a solid legal foundation to support a constitutional and political structure entrenched in the rule of law and the principle of democracy.

During his short tenure as a Supreme Court judge, Justice Ahmed’s passion for human rights was highlighted through land mark judgments which provided hope for destitute and hapless litigants. The book aims not just to honour this jurist who was bold and liberal by instinct and gifted with a highly complex mind, but also to stimulate legal academic discourse.

Law in a World of Change: Selected Essays in Memory of Justice Sabihuddin Ahmed


Edited by Kazim Hasan, Nausheen Ahmed, Salahuddin Ahmed and Sana Ahmed

Pakistan Law House, Karachi

ISBN 9789698372224