Criticise judgements, not judges, says Justice Umar Ata Bandial

Published February 2, 2022
Chief Justice-designate Justice Umar Ata Bandial (L) and outgoing Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed (R). — Photo provided by Haseeb Bhatti
Chief Justice-designate Justice Umar Ata Bandial (L) and outgoing Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed (R). — Photo provided by Haseeb Bhatti

ISLAMABAD: Identifying the ‘scandalisation’ of judges and a massive backlog of undecided cases as major challenges facing the judiciary, the chief justice-designate Justice Umar Ata Bandial on Tuesday laid out his roadmap for how the Supreme Court will function following the departure of Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed.

Justice Bandial, who is due to take office today (Wednesday), spoke at length about the challenges faced by the superior judiciary during the outgoing CJP’s term and 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 during his remarks at a full-court reference held in honour of the outgoing CJP.

“That is how yesterday’s minority view may become tomorrow’s majority judgement,” he observed, referring to the recently announced verdict in Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s review.

Incoming CJP calls on legal fraternity to help end culture of adjournments and filing of frivolous cases

He termed such conduct “unprofessional and uncivilised, quite apart from being unconstitutional”, adding that something had to be done and sought the assistance of the bar in this regard, before the court had to wade in.

The full-court reference was held in a packed Courtroom No 1 and attended by the outgoing chief justice’s family, Attorney General (AG) Khalid Jawed Khan, Pakistan Bar Council Vice President Hafeezur Rehman Chaudhry and Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Mohammad Ahsan Bhoon, among others.

Referring to the alarming spread of Covid-19, Justice Bandial said the outgoing CJP had overcome the challenge by keeping the doors of the court open for litigants, while devising SOPs to manage the threat.

He also pointed to the petition filed by Justice Isa against the presidential reference, which was heard over 17 months by 10 judges and finally ended on April 26, 2021. He said the case was spread over approximately 60 hearings and that on such days, the regular cause-list had to be curtailed for the larger bench to proceed.

During this period, the backlog rose from around 42,000 cases in December 2019 to nearly 50,000 cases in April 2021, Justice Bandial said, adding that the court had toiled hard, sometimes working long hours and disregarding health concerns.

Coining the idea of performance audits of all courts, including the apex court, to identify and remedy weaknesses, Justice Bandial 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 hearing.

He also called on the bar to lend its support in adding capacity to the court through the elevation of judges whose seniority, honesty, competency, judicial temperament are accompanied with the diversity of experience suited to the nature of work that needs disposal.

“One problem that is easily identifiable is the large number of frivolous disputes that clutter the justice system,” Justice Bandial regretted, adding that these should be put through alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.

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.

Outgoing CJP Gulzar Ahmed recalled how, during his tenure, recommendations were made to increase the strength of the Peshawar High Court to meet the added caseload brought on by the merger of seven districts of erstwhile Fata/Pata in the province.

In his remarks, AG Khalid Jawed Khan asked the incoming CJP to jealously guard against the camouflaged narrative that was being contrived from outside to pitch the harmonious values of independence of judiciary and accountability of judges against one another.

He also asked for deeper reflection on the exercise of the court’s suo motu powers under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, which he said had morphed into an issue of adversarial jurisdiction that led the court to areas not amenable to judicial resolution.

SCBA President Bhoon asked on behalf of bar associations that all complaints against superior court judges should be adjudicated by the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) as soon as possible. He also called for granting the right of appeal in cases decided under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.

Appreciating the recent verdict in the Justice Isa review case, the SCBA president also expressed the hope that the prime minister and the government would ensure its implementation.

Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2022

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