Accountability In The Land Of The Pure
Self-accountability is no accountability in a country such as Pakistan. Even the so-called independent bodies of accountability like the NAB, FIA, FBR and SECP are not independent. The Election Commission on one hand and the judiciary and Parliament on the other, have also been apathetic to say the least when it comes to holding those at the helm of the affairs accountable – the recent and rather obvious example being the lack of action on part of these ‘independent’ institutions to probe into the Panama-Leaks scandal, bringing the country to a near standstill. There is a possibility of an open confrontation leading to an all-encompassing chaos in the offing.
How, then, can the honourable judges of superior courts and lawyers in Pakistan claim to have a right to self-accountability, especially in the absence of a robust mechanism of transparency and right to information about the complaints, the procedure being adopted and finally the decisions in this respect? The august Supreme Court of Pakistan has declared that the accountability of superior court judges through the constitutional institution of Supreme Judicial Council has to be held behind closed doors, much to the chagrin of the advocates of constitutional principles of due process of law and right to information. One can understand that the august court was being mindful of the hard-earned independence of judiciary, a principle which is the cornerstone of our constitutional structure. However, this sacred concept of independence of judiciary would serve no useful purpose, especially for the masses that have been running from pillar to post in the pursuit of elusive justice for the last seventy years, given the history of self-accountability and ground realities of the body politic in Pakistan in this regard. No one knows about the fate of complaints that recently surfaced against a number of superior court judges, but were buried in the debris of ‘independence of judiciary’ soon afterwards.
The lawyers’ community on its part has also been in the news lately for the wrong reasons – the ‘right reasons’ have been conspicuous by their absence, especially in the aftermath of the much-hyped lawyer’s movement for the restoration of Justice Chaudhry and other deposed judges by the Musharraf regime. Their ‘inherent’ right to self-accountability is at stake and to protect this sacred right, the leaders of the bar have vowed to go to any extent to make the bench – the Lahore High Court – shun its idea of forming a supervisory committee to prosecute and hold accountable a couple of bar-leaders who allegedly misbehaved with the judges of the lower judiciary. So much so, they have openly asked for the resignation of the Chief Justice of Lahore High Court who is otherwise known for his uprightness, determination and hard work for much-needed reforms in the institution, especially with regards to the lower judiciary.
Such incidences of rowdy behaviour by lawyers have been on the rise for the last seven or so years, ever since they displayed their street power to reinstate the judges, which ultimately culminated in the end of the Musharaf era. The lawyers, especially the leaders amongst them, have taken upon themselves to teach the ‘errant’ lot a lesson – sometimes there are the otherwise unruly police officers and on other occasions there might be an irritated litigant or an assertive judge who has the audacity to refuse a relief.
The million dollar question is whether members of the respective provincial bar councils hold accountable the lawyers who have actually voted them into power. The answer is equally straightforward and simple but one that eludes the policymakers as any action to either usurp/abandon this concept of ‘self-accountability’ or streamline it with certain objective parameters would result in a country-wide agitation by the lawyers’ community. The fate of the supervisory committee of the Lahore High Court has also been sealed – even the most-daring of the chief justices would not be able to cope with the pressure asserted by the ‘black-coats’.
Whither the principle of natural justice that says “no one can be a judge in his own cause”? However, the bar and bench want to have the cake and eat it too at any cost. What is the solution then, given the performance, or lack of it, of the ‘independent’ accountability bodies? One way could be that lawyers and judges hold each other accountable; or the task could be given to an independent regulatory body, just like the Law Society in England, however, without ensuring independence this body will be nothing but a reflection of the existing accountability bodies. Nevertheless, the best solution it seems is that the bar and bench continue to have this right to self-accountability, coupled with the principles of mutual ‘checks and balances’, transparency and right to information – secrecy and the lack of transparency has, and would, never bring about self-accountability.
What about inaction on the part of ‘independent’ accountability/regulatory bodies and their penchant to protect the powerful? When will the judiciary, being an independent organ of the state with definite responsibilities, spring into action and leave no stone unturned to provide justice across-the-board – a kind of justice that does not distinguish between the rich and the poor or the powerful and the weak? Well, the answer lies in ensuring absolute independence of these institutions, coupled with developing a fool-proof accountability regime, right from the appointment of their respective heads to their administrative and financial independence. Given the charged atmosphere in the country and the growing discontent of the masses with misplaced policies and priorities of the incumbent government, it seems that any further inability or unwillingness of the legislature and the government in this respect would no longer be tolerated by the masses and ultimately street-power would be the only option left in this land of the pure to hold the elitist of the elite accountable.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.