Judicial reforms

Editorial Board
Friday, Jul 29, 2022

In a joint meeting of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), the legal community has asked the government to legislate regulation of the exercise of jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, in particular the discretionary powers of the chief justice in the formation of benches, fixing cases and initiating suo-motu cases. They have also reiterated a longstanding demand that the Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP) amend its rules to allow nominations for judicial appointments to be initiated by any member of the commission rather than the chief justice on his/her own. For many legal experts, these demands are not without merit, particularly after the recent controversy surrounding a three-member SC bench.

The past few days have particularly been tense as far as the relationship between the legislative and judicial arms of the state are concerned, the government in full attack mode over the Punjab CM case that has just been decided by the apex court. Wednesday’s National Assembly session saw Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif alleging that the higher judiciary treats the ruling coalition differently than the PTI and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari using the 58(2)(b) analogy for the judiciary, while calling for the government to form a parliamentary committee for judicial reforms. Needless to say, all this is leading into a rather nightmarish ‘clash of institutions’ domain – something the country can easily do without. Will any legislation by parliament be seen as politicians meddling in judicial affairs after a bad verdict? The PTI will obviously portray it as such even though the issue has been raised time and again by bar associations. When the 18th Amendment was passed, it gave parliament a role in judicial appointments but after reservations by the judiciary, it was reversed and the 19th Amendment was then passed in order to avoid a conflict between the chief executive and the judiciary. Since then, a need for judicial reforms has been felt and this long-pending agenda must now get the attention it requires. Former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in their Charter of Democracy had hinted at judicial reforms but the matter did not come to a serious discussion that could result in the supremacy of parliament as the only law-making body.

Ever since the lawyers’ movement back in 2007, the legal fraternity and civil society felt that its success would inevitably translate into judicial reforms. We have seen some chief justices try to reform the lower courts and the judicial process but the question of judicialization of politics seeps in ever too often. It is important to remember that in the dispensation of justice, the perception of justice too cannot be ignored. This is something that seems to also nag at those within the judicial system. Only yesterday, the matter of the CJ’s nomination of judges of higher courts for their appointment to the Supreme Court was deferred in the JCP. We hope that, instead of politically-motivated hasty steps, any effort at judicial reform includes the opinion of senior constitutional and legal experts so that a comprehensive reform package can take shape. The prime purpose of any judicial reform must be to prevent the use of unbridled powers of any institution at the cost of others. And at the base of any attempt at justice or governance must be respect for the grundnorm of the land – the constitution. No matter the politics or any particular legal issue, reverence for the constitution by all parts of state and government must be the bare minimum.