Umar Ata Bandial formally named country’s next top judge

Published January 18, 2022
Supreme Court Justice Umar Ata Bandial is seen in this file photo. — LHC website
Supreme Court Justice Umar Ata Bandial is seen in this file photo. — LHC website

ISLAMABAD: President Arif Alvi on Monday formally appointed Justice Umar Ata Bandial, the senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court, as the country’s next chief judge.

Justice Bandial will don the robes as the chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) on Feb 2, 2022 after incumbent CJP Gulzar Ahmed leaves on Feb 1, after two years and 42 days in office. He was appointed to the highest judicial office in the land on Dec 21, 2019.

“In exercise of the powers conferred by Article 175(3) read with Article 177 of the Constitution, the president of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is pleased to appoint Mr Justice Umar Ata Bandial, the most senior judge of the Supreme Court, as chief justice of Pakistan with effect [from] Feb 2, 2022,” says the notification issued on Jan 17, 2022 by the Ministry of Law and Justice.

When elevated to the office of CJP, Justice Bandial will face a veritable mountain of around 51,766 cases that are pending before the Supreme Court alone. The overall backlog of cases in Pakistan’s judiciary, including the superior courts as well as district courts, stands at a whopping 2.1 million.

Justice Bandial will serve in the top judicial office until Sept 16, 2023 when he is due to be replaced by Justice Qazi Faez Isa.

According to the scheme of seniority, Justice Isa would be CJP until Oct 25, 2024, when he is replaced by Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan for 282 days. Then, on Aug 4, 2025, the post would go to Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah.

He is expected to remain in office Nov 27, 2027, when he would be succeeded by Justice Munib Akhtar. Justice Yahya Afridi would be the country’s next top judge from Dec 14, 2028 until Jan 22, 2030.

Who is the newly-appointed CJP?

Born in Lahore on Sept 17, 1958, Justice Bandial received elementary and secondary education from different schools in Kohat, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and Lahore. He secured a bachelor’s degree in economics from Columbia University, followed by a Law Tripos degree from Cambridge and qualified as a barrister-at-law from the prestigious Lincoln’s Inn in London.

In 1983, he was enrolled as an advocate of the Lahore High Court (LHC) and a few years later, as an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

In his law practice at Lahore, Justice Bandial dealt mostly with commercial, banking, tax and property matters. Justice Bandial also handled international commercial disputes after 1993, right up until his elevation.

Justice Bandial also appeared in arbitration matters before the Supreme Court and various international arbitral tribunals in London and Paris.

Justice Bandial was elevated as a judge of the LHC on Dec 4, 2004. He was one of the judges who declined to retake their oath under the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) of Nov 2007, when Gen Pervez Musharraf proclaimed a state of emergency on Nov 3, 2007.

However, he was restored as a judge as a result of a lawyers’ movement for the revival of the judiciary.

Justice Bandial then served as chief justice of the LHC for two years until his elevation as judge of the apex court in June 2014.

During his career in the superior judiciary, Justice Bandial has rendered a number of important judgements on issues of public and private law. These include pronouncements on civil and commercial disputes, constitutional rights and public interest matters.

Justice Bandial also taught contract law and torts law at the Punjab University Law College, Lahore until 1987 and remained a member of its graduate studies committee while serving as the LHC judge.

Opportunities and challenges

Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Ahsan Bhoon told Dawn he hoped that Justice Bandial, being a man of integrity and a competent judge who commands the respect of the legal community, would do his best for the uplift of the judiciary by eradicating all irritants for the smooth dispensation of justice in Pakistan.

Mr Bhoon said the bar believes that during the tenure of the soft-spoken Justice Bandial, the relationship between the bench and bar would become more cordial and the incoming CJP would play his role to further harmonise this relationship.

Former Sindh High Court Bar Association president Salahuddin Ahmed was of the view that Justice Bandial had built a reputation as a learned and fair-minded judge, who thinks carefully about the precedential value of his verdicts, the importance of due process and the overall reputation of the judiciary.

His appointment as CJP is welcome news, but the true test of his judicial legacy lies ahead in how he is able to navigate the extra pressures that accompany the CJP’s office, he said.

As CJP, Salahuddin said, Justice Bandial’s foremost task would be to ensure the judiciary’s reputation for independence, which has often come under threat in the past.

Secondly, he will have to chart a course on how to exercise the vast discretions that accompany the office of the CJP – whether it relates to the nomination of judges, assumption of suo motu or constitution of benches and fixation of cases, Salahuddin said.

Thirdly, Justice Bandial will need to formulate a strategy on how to fix and reform the judicial process as a whole so that justice is delivered to litigants, not in decades but in months.

Meanwhile, a senior counsel told Dawn on condition of anonymity that Justice Bandial could inherit a divided Supreme Court, unlike the era when Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was the CJP.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2022



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