Profile: Who is the new Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial?

Published February 2, 2022
Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial. — LHC website/File
Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial. — LHC website/File

Supreme Court Justice Umar Ata Bandial took over as the top judge of the country at a ceremony at Aiwan-i-Sadr in Islamabad on Wednesday.

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 a 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.

Challenges ahead

Justice Bandial's ascension to the top judicial post comes over seven years after he joined the apex court.

President Arif Alvi had formally appointed Justice Bandial as the CJP on January 17.

“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,” a notification issued by the Ministry of Law and Justice had said.

As the CJP, Justice Bandial faces 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 will 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 will go to Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah.

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

Roadmap

The new CJP outlined his vision and roadmap for the SC a day earlier while speaking at a full-court reference held in honour of the outgoing chief justice Gulzar Ahmed.

He criticised mainstream and social media alike for resorting to attacking judges rather than criticising their judgements.

“The differences in judges’ opinions in matters of law arise from our individual perceptions and this diversity brings richness to our understanding,” Justice Bandial explained.

Coining the idea of performance audits of all courts, including the apex court, to identify and remedy weaknesses, Justice Bandial had also called on the legal fraternity to help save the court’s time by ensuring a greater reliance on written briefs, concise statements and skeleton arguments by counsel and an end to the culture of seeking adjournments at the time of the hearing.

In the criminal context, he said, failed prosecutions were the result of faulty investigations and a failure to collect valuable evidentiary material. Better training and improved coordination of investigation and prosecuting authorities would enable them to bring successful prosecutions to court, Justice Bandial said.

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