STRANGE are the ways of the capital city. On Tuesday night, the country was alerted to a special hearing of the Supreme Court scheduled for Wednesday morning. The subject: the mysterious allegations that business tycoon Malik Riaz had given large sums of money and other inducements to family members of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, in particular his son Arsalan Iftikhar. The reason for the alleged favours bestowed: Malik Riaz was hoping to secure favourable judgments from the SC in cases presumably involving him and his friends’ interests. Not an iota of proof had been produced in the public arena beyond a whispering campaign loaded with conspiracies when the SC decided to intervene. For its bold step — turning the harsh light of public and judicial scrutiny on the family of the chief justice — the SC deserves undiluted praise. At a time when other institutions are seen to be doing whatever they can to avoid meaningful accountability, the SC has sent a message that it will not shy away from even the most painful of controversies.
Having said that, a legal maxim may have to be turned on its head if the Arsalan Iftikhar-Malik Riaz case is to set a positive example. Not only must justice be seen to be done, it must also be done. For many supporters of Chief Justice Chaudhry his act of hauling his own son before him and sitting in judgment over him for the alleged attempt to pervert the course of justice is an unparalleled act of courage and moral rectitude. However, for those looking to the constitution and the letter of the law for guidance, the chief justice should never have headed the bench before which Arsalan Iftikhar appeared yesterday. The conflict of interest and violation of due process are simply too obvious to ignore. If nothing else, what about the rights of Arsalan Iftikhar, who has been dragged into a controversy without any proof whatsoever and now stands before a father who may want to prove that his own credentials are beyond reproach? Let the law run its course, but without family members sitting in judgement.