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Profile: Justice Nasirul Mulk — politically neutral

Updated July 06, 2014

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Designate Chief Justice Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk along with other judges of Supreme Court presenting shield to Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani on the eve of his retirement in Supreme Court.— Photo by Online
Designate Chief Justice Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk along with other judges of Supreme Court presenting shield to Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani on the eve of his retirement in Supreme Court.— Photo by Online

The elevation of Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk as the top adjudicator of the country would mean advancing the legacy set out by his predecessor, retired chief justice of Pakistan Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, of exercising judicial restraint.

As Justice Mulk takes oath as the 22nd chief justice of Pakistan today, the appointment will bring honour, dignity and a quiet grace, say members of the legal fraternity.

Why quiet grace? Because, they say, Justice Mulk seldom interjects court proceedings with questions to the counsel unless necessary. A judge who never loses his temper, he extends equal opportunity to the lawyers, but is firm about not allowing the contesting sides to get sidetracked by entering the political arena.

When pressed to compare chief justice-designate Mulk with former chief justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, a senior lawyer on condition of anonymity commented that ex-CJP Chaudhry was not driven by intellect or vision but by his ego — he had a penchant for the petty exercise of power. Justice Mulk, on the other hand, will be “what a chief justice should be,” he added.

If former chief justice Chaudhry encroached upon the constitutional powers of the legislature and the executive, Justice Mulk believes in what he said recently: that structure in Pakistan can only be strengthened when all the institutions of the state work in accordance with the law and cautiously exercise the power held by them for the betterment of the people.

“Institutions need to work in harmony with one another and it is their constitutional duty to desist from undue interference in the functioning of other pillars of the state,” Justice Mulk said in a reference held to bid farewell to departing chief justice Jillani.

Justice Mulk has many challenges to face during his 13-month tenure because huge expectations are pinned on him given the political tensions in the country, observed rights activist Asma Jehangir. “He has to remain non-bipartisan on civil-military relations,” she said. “That the biggest challenge Justice Mulk will have to deal with is tackling the legacy of former chief justice Chaudhry, which lingers.”

“He is a good administrator and a disciplined judge who knows how to manage courts,” commented Advocate Hafiz S.A. Rehman.

Justice Mulk belongs to Mingora. His father, Kamran Khan, was a businessman known for his philanthropic work in Swat. The dapper Justice Mulk is fond of playing golf and is often seen taking constitutionals in the Margalla hills.

“He was a teacher who had complete command of his subject and avoided controversies,” recalled Advocate Khawaja Azhar Rasheed, who was a student of Justice Mulk in the Khyber Law College of Peshawar University. “He always came into the classroom well prepared.”

He is remembered for the way he conducted the contempt case against then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. He convicted the then chief executive for 30 seconds while maintaining the dignity and honour of the court, and left the disqualification issue open to the Election Commission of Pakistan and the then speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Fehmida Mirza.

Justice Mulk is one of the seven judges who signed a restraining order on Nov 3, 2007, when retired Gen Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency and forcibly sent the judges home. Justice Mulk later joined the judiciary on Sept 20, 2008, under the Naek formula when he took a fresh oath as a judge of the Supreme Court with his seniority intact.

Justice Mulk dissented from a majority judgement while deciding an appeal filed by Mukhtaran Mai for the enhancement of the sentence of her rapists and against their acquittal. He partially accepted Mukhtaran Mai’s appeal by setting aside the high court’s verdict of the acquittal of the accused on April 21, 2011.

Justice Mulk resigned from the post of the acting Chief Election Commissioner the day he was designated as the next chief justice. However, he still holds the office of the chairman of the enrolment committee of the Pakistan Bar Council as well as the chairman of the building committee of the under-construction Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) complex being built at a staggering cost of Rs650 million.

However, a muted campaign is doing the rounds among members of the association that Justice Mulk should not continue holding the office of the building committee chairman as it would attract transparency issues, especially at a time when four members of the building committee have resigned on the expenses issue.

While hearing the missing persons’ cases, Justice Mulk has always stood firm as a result of which a number of disappeared persons have surfaced.

To advocate Tariq Mehmood, former SCBA president, Justice Mulk may face difficulties in keeping cohesion in court. However, he appreciates the May 24 judgement in which the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government lost a legal dispute over fee concessions to students in private educational institutions.

The vice chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council, Muhammad Ramzan Chaudhry, expressed the hope that the new chief justice would accept the long-standing demand of the council to suitably amend the Judicial Commission of Pakistan Rules 2010 to ensure meaningful consultation of the bar in the appointment of judges.

Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2014