Silencing The Judiciary?
“All the rights secured to the citizen under the Constitution are worth nothing, and a mere bubble, except guaranteed to them by an independent and virtuous judiciary.”
– Sir Andrew Jackson.
For a country to be governed by the rule of law, it is essential that the independence of judiciary is guaranteed and respected. In a recent course of events, the Imran Khan led government in Pakistan appears to have threatened the independence and impartiality of the Supreme Court and Sindh High Court judges known and respected for their honesty, integrity and hard work. One of the judges against whom the government has filed a reference is, as per an old Tweet by President Arif Alvi, one of the most honest persons.
The recent filing of references by the government against respected members of the judiciary has caused an uproar from the legal community. The references have been filed under Article 209 of the Constitution of Pakistan, alleging that certain judges have acquired properties abroad without disclosing the same in their wealth returns.
The Additional Attorney General, Mr. Zahid Ebrahim, submitted his resignation to President Alvi following the references filed against the judges and stated that, “This is not about the accountability of judges, but a reckless attempt to tar the reputation of independent individuals and is browbeating the judiciary of Pakistan”.
The Sindh High Court Bar Association also unanimously condemned the references filed by the government and stated that one of the judges was “the most honest and upright” judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and that the filing of a reference against him was a “counterblast to the Quetta carnage Commission Report and judgment regarding the Faizabad dharna”. The Association demanded an immediate withdrawal of the references and characterised the said act of the government as a “pressure tactic” to undermine the judiciary.
The Peshawar High Court Bar Association stated that such references “undermined the independence of judiciary as judges would be subjected to humiliation and disrespect in the eyes of the general public”. It also stated that the reference “victimized the honourable judge for his independent, straightforward, upright and honest” opinions especially in controversial matters like the Faizabad dharna and the Quetta carnage Commission Report.
Following the publication of reference reports in the media, one of the judges of the Supreme Court approached President Alvi and complained that such selective leaks amounted to his character assassination and jeopardised his right to due process and fair trial. He also stated that the said act undermined the institution of the judiciary.
The President of the Supreme Court Bar Association has stated that the filing of such superfluous references against honest and independent judges amounts to their character assassination and is a highly condemnable act. It is extremely important that judges are given the respect and independence to perform their duties and the government’s act to pressurise the judiciary not only amounts to an interference with their independence but also disregards the rule of law in Pakistan.
Justice Asif S. Khosa (the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan) in his article Indepedence of Judicary stated that, “Independence of judiciary is not an end in itself, it is only a means to the end, and the end for sure of impartiality of judges.” But if the government undermines the independence of judges, how will the judicial system ensure the ultimate goal of an impartial judiciary? Access to justice in Pakistan is already slow and difficult where cases that are more than twenty years old are still pending before the courts. Amidst such issues, the government’s attempts to undermine the independence of judiciary are nothing but condemnable. In the words of Mr. Raheel Kamran Sheikh, the filing of references by the government against judges is “not only detrimental to their reputation but also carries with it the potential to adversely affect their performance”.
The government must withdraw the references filed against the judges and refrain from being an impediment to the judiciary’s independent and impartial performance of duties. According to the rule of law, judges must ensure that they decide cases keeping in mind the principles of the rule of law, even if their decisions go against the interests of the powerful. It is only possible for the judiciary to safeguard people’s rights and freedoms and ensure equal protection to all if its independence and impartiality is respected by the executive and the legislature.
Let us remind the government of Stephen Breyer’s words according to which, “Independence means you decide according to the law and the facts” and not according to the wishes or interests of the powerful. The act to undermine judicial independence should not be overlooked and the legal community should stand united with the judiciary of Pakistan.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which she might be associated.