Respecting the court

Updated Nov 08 2016

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The Supreme Court is not a circus. It is the highest court in the land and it must be respected as such — no matter what kind of political theatre some are determined to create.

The Panama Papers issue is now a matter before the Supreme Court, and the various positions of litigants and respondents are being heard by a bench led by no less than the chief justice of Pakistan.

The court has indicated its seriousness of purpose and the politicians and respondents embroiled in the matter have publicly declared their willingness to submit to the court’s adjudication on it.

There must rest the issue until the court delivers its decision — and certainly the circus-like atmosphere created by competing political statements made to the media on the steps of the court needs to end forthwith.

If the court itself is rightly reluctant to be seen to be casting a chilling effect on free speech, especially of the political variety, perhaps the politicians themselves should reconsider their behaviour on the sacred space that is the Supreme Court.

Inside the Supreme Court, on its premises generally and in the immediate vicinity outside, politicians should refrain from bickering and making unseemly political statements. It may not be their intention but the net effect is creating a perception that the Supreme Court is being politically influenced and coming under undue pressure.

To be sure, the decision of the court could be career-altering, and perhaps life-changing, for some of the country’s political leaders. But it is firm tradition and the sound institutional practice of the Supreme Court that litigants and respondents speak through their lawyers alone.

When the court wants to hear directly from political leaders, the court will ask them to speak. What applies inside the court should also apply immediately outside it.

Hard-hitting political statements, exchange of barbs and jibes, and political banter with the Supreme Court building up in the immediate background of politicians making such statements, unacceptably drags the court into the political realm.

Where politicians are failing, it could have been expected that the country’s senior legal fraternity would behave in a more dignified manner. But there too there is a spectacle being created as senior office holders of apex legal associations trade barbs and attack each other for alleged political affiliations and politicisation of the superior judiciary.

Where lawyers are representing political clients, they can and should forcefully defend their clients’ legal position. However, legal associations and regulatory bodies must not be run as political parties.

Much like politicians contest politics, but must respect the sanctity of parliament, elected leaders of the legal community can take rival positions but must show regard for the sanctity of the judicial process. Let the Supreme Court continue its work in an environment free of undue pressure, threat or intimidation.

Published in Dawn November 8th, 2016