Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa – An Insight into the Man by His Law Clerk
One of the few inevitable things likely to happen to any individual serving as a law clerk is that one comes to develop a kind of reverence for the judge he or she is serving with, therefore, it is perhaps impossible for me to write this in a completely objective and unbiased manner. However, I want to state that I have been extremely wary of and on guard against exaggeration of any kind since that would be a disservice to the character and person of a great judge.
Many things can be written about Justice Khosa’s judicial tenure, tributes expounded, praises leveled and salutations rendered. But, as his law clerk for the past two and a half years, I intend to provide a personal insight into the man himself.
Throughout my time with Justice Khosa, I kept a journal for noting down what I deemed important lessons, events and the many pieces of advice that flecked my journey with him. They are a sum of his life which I feel should be shared so that others may also benefit as I have.
During my initial days as clerk, one late evening, I was sitting at my desk placed in his retiring room adjacent to his chambers. Upon hearing footsteps, I looked up to find him standing a few feet away holding a file in his hand. He gave me instructions and went back to his desk. It took me some time to wrap my head around the fact that a senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, with a staff at his command to assist him with his every need, got up from his seat and walked over to my desk to hand me a file himself when I sat only about 15 feet away from him. Whenever someone enquires about Justice Khosa’s character, I recount what may appear as this mundane instance but which has struck deep and formed my precursory impression of the man I continue to have deep admiration for.
In the two and a half years that I served with him, I would meet him several times a day to discuss work related matters. I do not recall a single instance when he greeted me while still being seated. He would rise, firmly shake hands, motion me to take a seat and then sit down himself. The said protocol never wavered and was repeated with every visitor. Every guest who came to meet him was accompanied to the door upon their exit. After approaching the door, he would tell them that it was where his jurisdiction ended otherwise he would have escorted them down the hallway as well.
In my whole tenure with him, I never, and I repeat never, saw or heard him raise his voice. The numerous lawyers who have appeared before him will testify to the fact that he never raised his voice even in court. Calm, collected and poised, the worst reproach he would utter to the most insolent of lawyers would be a request to kindly let him speak. Finding such patience mind-boggling, I asked him about his surpassing ability to exercise such control. He attributed his ability to fully martial his emotions to his upbringing and his father distilling the quality in him. I feel no hesitation in admitting that I have made a lot of mistakes while working with him, especially in my early days. But there was not a single instance where he expressed his disapproval with me in a manner that could be termed even remotely rude. He would point out the mistake and ask for more attention to detail. The very fact that he would express his disapproval in the said manner greatly improved my resolve to not repeat the same mistake in future.
Mr. Khosa was extremely particular in the way he would approach his work. It was a cardinal rule while working for him that a day’s work had to end that very day and his desk had to be absolutely empty before he went home. His work ethic was unlike anything I had ever seen and he demanded meticulousness and precision from those who assisted him. He wanted things to be done in an orderly fashion and his office environment was reflective of the same. Even the stationary had to be placed in its respective place slightly towards his right side; pencils sharpened every day; his cigarettes and lighter placed on his left; and the chairs opposite him facing him exactly at the right angle. Countless times I saw him rise from his seat and arrange things in their respective positions even though to another eye they would seem perfectly aligned.
Despite being extremely meticulous towards work, he remained kind and highly appreciative. In his book Judging with Passion, Mr. Khosa writes,
“Compliments demand performance, performance leads to reputation and reputation compels performance again and again.”
He practically implemented the said approach amongst his staff and the slightest compliment from him did indeed work wonders in elevating our performance. It also helped in keeping the chamber’s atmosphere pleasant and made all staff members feel that their efforts were not unappreciated.
His diet remained a mystery to me throughout my time with him. I never saw him eat anything while being present in office; his intake subsisted solely on some 5-10 mugs of English tea and a pack (or two) of Dunhill Reds, depending on the nature of work. Along with achieving mastery over criminal law, he perfected the art of letting the ash of his cigarette hang until the very last second when a slight flick of his wrist would send it into the ashtray below. One of my unfulfilled wishes was to share a cigarette with him, but I never manged to work up the courage to ask him.
In my forlorn yearning to emulate the great man, I once asked what it took to become a good lawyer. Only two things, he answered, and added that they were a secret to success in every aspect of life. He would repeat the same advice to me in almost every discussion we had about improving oneself and underscored the necessity of not taking them lightly owing to their apparently simple nature. The first was sincerity of intention and second was relentless hard work. After acknowledging the grace of Allah, he always used to say that he attributed his success to the said aspects. He would vehemently advise me to never opt for shortcuts and to exhaust myself in good faith in whatever pursuit I became a part of. He acknowledged that it was not an easy path, but reiterated that it was a sure path, one that would not lead one astray.
Those who have listened to his public addresses may already have an idea about this, but he is a deeply religious man with an unwavering conviction of faith. Every time we would deal with a difficult decision and I would express my apprehension, his recourse was to refer to Verse 107 of Surah Yunus:
“And if Allah should touch you with adversity, there is no remover of it except Him; and if He intends for you good, then there is no repeller of His bounty. He causes it to reach whom He wills of His servants.”
Before concluding, I want to acknowledge that this tribute, if it can even be labelled as such, does not do justice to Khosa sahib’s life and personality. The attempt is meant to bring light to some of the aspects of a great man and acknowledge the relentless hard work and beauty of character that he carried with him throughout his life, and to which I was a personal witness for two and a half years. He was an incredible mentor to me and I have no words to express my gratitude and appreciation for the tutelage he extended throughout my tenure with him despite him holding the highest judicial office in the land. He even advised me about my handshake and stated that that it should be straight and firm otherwise ‘banda thalay lag jata hai!’
Some of his retirement plans include learning a musical instrument and calligraphy. Knowing how he operates, I would not be surprised if in near future we are treated to a soulful symphony played by him or a fresco painted on some wall in Lahore!
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