ISLAMABAD: While the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s (CJP) unprecedented address to the upper house of parliament was widely welcomed by the legal fraternity, some quarters have expressed concerns over what this precedent could mean for the relationship between the legislature and the judiciary.
On the invitation of Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani, CJP Anwar Zaheer Jamali spoke to the Senate as part of ‘an intra-institutional dialogue’ on Nov 4, where he reminded legislators that the real test lies in the implementation of laws.
“While the performance of the parliament leaves much to be desired, there are also several question marks on the judicial system as well,” said retired Justice Tariq Mehmood. The former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association wondered how the judiciary would react if parliament were to point finger at its shortcomings.
In 2009, Mr Mehmood recalled, the Supreme Court had taken the position that the summoning of its registrar by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to settle certain audit objections was against the independence of the judiciary. A bench of the court had even issued a stay, restraining the registrar from attending the PAC meeting.
“Had this been a seminar or a conference where people from all walks of life are invited to share their experience on various topics, it would have been a different matter. But to address a house of parliament, which is in fact a political forum, is completely unusual and incomprehensible.”
The Chief Justice of Pakistan, he said, had gone to the Senate knowing that the legislation or constitutional amendments adopted by parliament eventually landed before the superior judiciary for interpretation. It would be better if the judiciary maintained a distance from the affairs of parliament, which is only accountable to the people of Pakistan, civil society and the media, he concluded.
But Mr Mehmood’s views are not shared by most other members of the legal fraternity, who consider the gesture a positive development that will go a long way in fostering badly-needed harmony between institutions.
“There has been a lot of discussion in bar rooms because the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s address was something novel, but we eventually reached the conclusion that dialogue between democratic institutions is far healthier than backdoor negotiations that have taken place in the past,” commented rights activist Asma Jahangir.
As long as such initiatives remain transparent and without agenda, there is no harm in having such exchanges between the judiciary and legislators, she said.
Ahmer Bilal Soofi, a leading expert on international law, argued that the address would set a good tradition and that it was helpful to understand the points of view of various constitutional institutions.
“This interaction, which was an extremely dignified gesture, will help foster some level of harmony without compromising the principled relationship between the judiciary and the parliament that used to be at the loggerheads in the not-too-distant past,” he said.
Newly-elected SCBA President Ali Zafar told Dawn such interactions would help dispel the impression that the judiciary was eroding the autonomy of parliament by repeatedly interfering in their domain.
“It is a very healthy sign that the chief justice had also hinted that the court will exercise self-restraint in taking suo motu notices on actions taken by institutions,” he said.
Former Additional Attorney General Tariq Khokhar recalled that the US Senate confirmed the appointment of the judges, whereas the chief justice in the United Kingdom used to address and even cast vote on legislative business conducted by the House of Lords. This practice, however, has been abandoned now, he said.
Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2015