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SC verdicts not meant to please, settle scores: chief justice of Pakistan

Updated September 12, 2017

ISLAMABAD: In an apparent response to criticism of the Panama Papers verdict by a particular political party, Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar said on Monday the Supreme Court did not write judgements to please or settle scores.

“We serve the people of Pakistan and we serve the Constitution of Pakistan to the best of our understanding and ability… we render judgements in the fine scales of justice,” the chief justice observed during his speech at the beginning of the new judicial year 2017-18.

Though most of the speakers did not mention the Panama Papers verdict specifically, the decision cast a shadow over the event, as many alluded to it in their speeches.

In his address, the chief justice highlighted how the Constitution provided a system of governance to be run through three organs of the state — the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.

Panamagate decision overshadows event held to mark beginning of new judicial year

The Constitution was supreme and each organ of the state had to perform its duties and functions in accordance with the constitutional scheme, the chief justice said, adding that the most vital aspect of a true democracy was the rule of law, for which the independence of judiciary was essential.

An independent judiciary administered justice according to the dictates of the Constitution and the law, ensuring the protection of fundamental rights to achieve the ultimate goal of ensuring social, economic and political justice, he said.

Independence of the judiciary meant that judges must be independent from all kinds of influences from any side, be it the executive, or by any other person or authority in the echelons of power, he added.

Under the Constitution, the judiciary was vested with power to undertake judicial review whenever any authority or functionary of the state acted against the Constitution or the law, the chief justice said, in what was seen as a veiled reference to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

“An official action or act that violated any of the provisions of the Constitution or the law, reflecting arbitrariness, always results in mis-governance, non-governance and consequently, injustice,” he said.

The prevalence of injustice thus resulted in the denial and infringement of rights of the citizens, which in turn led to chaos and anarchy in society, the chief justice cautioned.

Thus, the chief justice said, it was necessary to uphold the rule of law by all means, with a view to ushering in peace and progress and allowing for the physical and spiritual growth of society.

But Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf was of the view that recent events did not augur well for the trichotomy of powers, which he termed as being essential for the development of Pakistan’s constitutional democracy. “We witnessed firsthand a confluence of these factors when political issues were brought before this court, leaving parties without the right of appeal,” he maintained, referring to the absence of any appeal mechanism for cases heard by the Supreme Court under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.

“The last twelve months have also exposed another kind of divide that strikes at the integrity of our legal processes in the eyes of the international legal community and one that we all must commit ourselves to bridge,” the attorney general said.

“In an ever-increasing number, international courts and tribunals have commented upon the orders passed by our judiciary and have found that international best practices have not been adhered to.”

“Some of the judgements by our courts have led to proceedings before international [forums] that, in turn, have awarded damages to investors in billions of dollars, and billions more are pending in claims against the state,” the AG lamented.

“Emerging economic literature informs us that quality of judicial performance impacts economic prosperity and is a key factor in investment decisions. Countries with robust judiciary structures attract more investment and grow more rapidly than those with weak judicial systems,” he maintained.

At a time when Pakistan was emerging from a decade of sluggish economic growth, the courts had a role to play in sustaining and encouraging the modest but rising rate of economic growth and development.

Referring to the expanding media role, the attorney general expressed the hope that it would not transform into a parallel ‘People’s court’, saying that this trend ought to be checked without compromising constitutional guarantees.

Pakistan Bar Council Vice Chairman Mohammad Ahsan Bhoon regretted that the superior judiciary was subjected to criticism without reasoning over the Panama Papers judgement, despite the fact that many facts were available on the record. However, he expressed confidence that the verdict would eventually become a hallmark in the annals of history.

He also expressed the confidence that the principles developed through the judgement would also help bring other institutions, which enjoyed sanctity, into the net of accountability.

He also mentioned the tragic 1979 SC judgement that led to the hanging of an elected prime minister — a verdict which later earned notoriety as a judicial murder.

Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan (SCBA) President Rasheed A. Rizvi was bitter about the inclusion of Military Intelligence (MI) and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officials in the Joint Investigation Team that probed money laundering allegations against the Sharif family.

Citing the Asghar Khan case to highlight military interference in the 1996 general elections, the SCBA president regretted that inviting military agencies to play a role in a case of political sensitivity inevitably led to finger-pointing, not only at the military but also at the court.

“This bar does not believe that the only independent and honest people capable of an impartial inquiry against a sitting government belong to the armed forces,” he said.

Admitting that corruption was a massive challenge that eroded governance, merit and efficiency in the system, he said the judiciary had to stand up and fight this menace. In order to preserve its own reputation, it should be seen to do so impartially, he maintained, adding that the Panama Papers case filed by Imran Khan should not be the last such matter.

Though Mr Rizvi said he would not get into the merits of the Panama Papers case, since there were review petitions pending against it, he maintained that the sanctity of votes was always subject to the conduct and integrity of elected representatives, and could not be pleaded as a defence in criminal charges before a court of law.

Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2017