• Regrets how his ‘innocent observations’ were mocked
• Says over Rs18bn in dam fund monies held by ‘govt securities’
• May not address traditional full-court reference upon retirement

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial on Monday said that “bitter” constitutional litigation had impacted the Supreme Court’s performance.

“The court was put to test in a trying contest which was… only hostile and aggressive [and] as a result we sat back and became [its] victim and suffered in performance,” the CJP acknowledged, while speaking at a full court reference.

The CJP pointed out he prayed that political stability would bring economic stability but regretted that his “innocent observations” were sometimes mocked. The term “short and sweet judgement” was turned into sarcasm and his greeting “good to see you” was taken out of context and misreported.

“We expect accurate reporting from media,” he said.

Held inside Courtroom No 1, the ceremony was organised to mark the commencement of judicial year 2023-24, on a day when the SC reopens after three-month summer vacations. Usually at such ceremonies, CJPs take stock of achievements and mention the missed-out targets that would have been realised, along with a to-do list for the next year.

But since he will be doffing his robes on Sept 16, his speech did not carry guidelines to be followed by the court in the remaining year, though he expressed the hope that his successor, Justice Qazi Faez Isa — who will be sworn in on Sept 17 — would devise a better mechanism in entertaining suo motu cases and managing the court’s affairs.

CJP Bandial was all praise for Justice Isa, saying that he was an admirable person for whom he had great respect.

Sitting next to the CJP, Justice Isa was seen writing something on a piece of paper during the speech.

This is the beauty that the Supreme Court today comprised fiercely independent judges having extraordinary intellect, the CJP said, adding when independent mind speaks, difference of opinion definitely emerges.

Legal observers believe that the CJP’s speech hints at the possibility that the ceremony was his last official commitment and he may not be addressing a full court farewell reference on the eve of his retirement, as per tradition.

Later over tea, Justice Bandial chose not to divulge much when some journalists asked him about the full court farewell reference.

In fact, the chief justice alluded to the possibility himself, saying: “As I speak today as an outgoing CJP, there is a sense of gratitude for the fellow colleagues and I hope that I will cherish and carry this sense of gratefulness.”

He expressed the hope that no one harboured “serious grievance” against him and if someone did, he asked them to let it go.

He said these observations and reflections came straight from his heart and in the end he thanked his brother and sister judges for being kind to him also recognising their generosity, warmness and support. He also appreciated Justice Ayesha Malik and Justice Musarrat Hilali and described them as dynamic ladies who have empowered the court.

During the speech, however, he reminded the audience that during the summer vacations, at least six or seven judges ran the court by hearing cases and writing judgments day in and day out.

The alarming rise of backlog of cases to 56,544 is considered to be a big challenge. Though the CJP acknowledged that a huge number of cases had been decided during the previous judicial year, he said things began to change in February when constitutional cases with political undertones started to pouring in.

Political cases

The CJP expressed the hope that political and constitutional matters will go away so that the court could focus more on disputes concerning ordinary litigants.

Referring to the judgement regarding holding of polls to the Punjab Assembly within 90 days, he observed that none of the judges disputed that elections should not be held within the stipulated period but difficulty arose because it was a political case.

When such things happened, the contest loses its legal character, the CJP regretted.

He cited the example of a 2021 case in which the court had laid down guidelines for entertaining suo motu cases. He observed that during the last nine months, the SC invoked only one case by exercising its suo motu jurisdiction.

This year, CJP reminded, the apex court returned 13 per cent of its budget back to the state, while on the dam fund, he said Rs400,000 was deposited just last month. This showed how people were concerned about the water scarcity issue. He said around Rs18.6 billion in the dam fund was held with government securities, adding that an SC bench regulates the funds.

Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2023

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