AT a time when the issue of accountability is front and centre, the latest leaked video scandal has shaken the political establishment and the justice system to its core.

The saga continues to unfold, with accusations and counter-accusations making matters even more murky. And yet, it is crystal clear that some spring-cleaning by the judiciary is urgently required.

Read: Hussain Nawaz offered me 'Rs500m bribe' to resign after Al-Azizia verdict: judge Arshad Malik

Judge Arshad Malik’s affidavit in response to the secretly recorded video that purports to show him claiming he was blackmailed by ‘hidden hands’ into giving a guilty verdict against Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Azizia reference is extremely problematic. In the affidavit, submitted to the Islamabad High Court, the judge says it was actually two PML-N supporters who used a “manipulated, immoral video” in an attempt to bribe and threaten him into acquitting Mr Sharif in the two references in his court.

Even after he handed down a guilty verdict in one of them — the Al-Azizia reference — he was, he claims, pressured into meeting Mr Sharif and his son Hussain Nawaz at Jati Umra and Madina, respectively. Judge Malik also alleges he was further blackmailed into giving his input for Mr Sharif’s appeal against the Al-Azizia conviction.

Whatever the merits of the judge’s version of events, he has in his sworn affidavit admitted to actions that clearly qualify as judicial misconduct.

In order for verdicts to be unbiased rather than perceived as having been influenced by personal interests — perhaps for illegal gain or to avoid scandal — there must be a clear line dividing judges and litigants.

Communicating and fraternising with parties invested in the outcome of Mr Sharif’s case, and meeting with the former premier at his Jati Umra residence, violates the very basic requirements of justice.

A sound verdict is premised on the impartiality and independence of the presiding judge.

Relieving Judge Malik of his duties at the accountability court pending investigation was the only logical outcome.

However, the matter must not end here.

Even in these eventful times, this is a watershed moment and must be grasped as such to weed out the endemic corruption in our appallingly dysfunctional criminal justice system. The ongoing process of accountability of public officials is already problematic, due to a not ill-deserved perception of investigations being largely tainted by political considerations. The judiciary must meet the standards universally expected of the arbiters of the law. Only if the judges are above reproach can the accountability process have any credibility.

Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2019

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