Remembering Justice Cornelius

Published: March 20, 2011
The writer served as executive director of the Pak-American Cultural Center from 1990-2004

The writer served as executive director of the Pak-American Cultural Center from 1990-2004

What is one to make of the recent stand-off between the prime minister and the chief Justice of Pakistan over the chronicle of Justice (retd) Dogar? This is not the first time that Gilani has disobeyed and defied the edicts of the apex court. But since he has gotten away with it in the past, it must have crossed his mind that from now he has a free hand to do just what he likes. He has been able to do so with sustained incomprehension of the gravity of the situation and a French hauteur which must have earned the admiration of his severest detractors. He is envied by many for his sartorial elegance and the way he extols the timeless craft of prevarication. And while one witnesses the occasional posing and gesticulating, he still comes across on television as a man whose determination is wrapped around pure kryptonite. With records being broken in deficit financing, galloping inflation, rampant corruption and a virtual state of anarchy, opponents of the government believe that a hatchet is soon about to fall on the establishment. But this does not seem at all likely to happen. The impression that one gets from the terse statements that come down the pike is that the army doesn’t want to get involved and neither does the American administration, as long as Pakistan continues to fight the terrorist menace.

Relations between the government in power and the higher judiciary have had a stormy history. In fact, Pakistan grappled with one of its worst crises on November 28, 1997 when an unruly mob stormed into the Supreme Court, forcing the then chief justice, Sajjad Ali Shah, to adjourn the contempt of court case against then prime minister Nawaz Sharif. This writer was in England when the other episode, the constitutional crisis, took place. But he got the details from one of the English newspapers. In 1954, the governor-general Ghulam Mohammed Khan dismissed the Constituent Assembly. Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan, the speaker of the assembly, challenged the dismissal in court and the case was filed in the morning of November 7, 1954. There is a wonderful story about how the establishment tried to ensure that the speaker wouldn’t make it to the high court and how he finally managed to do so by hopping into a rickshaw, dressed in a burqa. Although Justice AR Cornelius agreed with the plaintiff and overturned the dismissal, the Federal Court, under Mr Justice Muhammad Munir, upheld the sacking.

Justice AR Cornelius was the sole dissenting judge in the landmark judgment which forever altered the course of politics in Pakistan and sealed the fate of democracy. He had interpreted the law conscientiously and without fear. The guidelines were there and all he had to do was follow them.

The decision to uphold the dismissal of the constituent assembly marked the beginning of the overt role of the military and the civil establishment in the politics of this country. All one had to do was add the barons of the industrial class and the sagging rump of the rural squirearchy, and one had defined the power base in the country.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • Zazi
    Mar 20, 2011 - 5:44AM

    Good to remember Justice Cornelius. He indeed was a great man. I first met Justice Cornelius in Lahore in 1981 when he was the Senior Partner at the Law Firm of Cornelius, Lane and Mufti (CLM), which has produced great jurists such as SC Justice Jawwad Khawaja and our legal mind and activist Hamid Khan. At the time I was working for an international bank and I used to solicit legal opinions from CLM on which Justice Cornelius opined. He used to sit through a meeting with his eyes closed listening to the exchange that we would be having. Once I thought he had dozed off and stopped talking. After a few seconds Cornelius opened his eyes and said, “I am listening”. It was just his way. Then he would talk softly and briefly giving his opinion verbally to be followed by a written one. I also had a chance to visit him at Flatties Hotel, where he had a suite on a permanent basis. I saw group pictures of his youth when he went to Cambridge University for studies. He was a great Jurist who ranked among our greatest minds, including Justice Kayani. He was far ahead of the pygmies that came to dominate our Judicial landscape like Justice Munir, Justice Sardar Iqbal, Justice SA Rehman, Justice Anwar ul Haq and Justice Hamid Dogar. Recommend

  • Zulfikar
    Mar 20, 2011 - 8:35AM

    Cornelius was an ICS officer of DMG cadre turning to judiciary in late 40’s in Pakistan. He was a chauvinist person who hated ethnic Sindhi people and is reported to have said to. Stephen Cohen that, Sindhis are not to be trusted in any way. His whole psychoanalysis is done in last chapter of Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan by Stephen Cohen.Recommend

  • Feroze A Ursani
    Mar 20, 2011 - 9:36AM

    Thanks Mr Mooraj for honoring the brave amongst the Justices’ in the higher Pakistani judiciary, Justice Cornelius being the foremost amongst them!
    For your readers can you please also mention the bravest amongst the braves of the Sindh High Court justices who overturned Ghulam Muhammad in Maulvi Tamizuddin’s case, they atleast deserved to be named, instead of a passing reference to their judgement!
    Thanks again,Recommend

  • Zazi
    Mar 20, 2011 - 12:01PM

    Cohen is a bloody liar. His Zulfi Bhutto is a tainted book written by a Jewish author who has misinterpreted facts and added his own. His book on Bhutto is a very poor historical document. Others, who were closer to Bhutto have been analytically better such as Mazari’s Journey to Disillusionment, Rafi Raza on ZAB and Stanley Wolpert’s Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan. Cohen is particularly jaundiced when writing about Pakistan and inserts anecdotes that are blatant lies.

    Justice Cornelius was an ICS man. They never had prejudices that you suggest otherwise they were not in ICS, which as a Civil Service far outranked the current DMG and the formal CSP cadres, by their sheer intellect and their thought process. My father was one and I was fortunate to meet some of the ICS officers as a child. Men like MM Ahmed, Sir Zafarullah Khan and Zafar ul Ahsan with whom my father served. I also knew Justice Cornelius when I was entering my professional life and from whom I solicited legal opinions. You don’t know much about the man on whom you have commented. Recommend

  • Khalid Rahim
    Mar 20, 2011 - 4:08PM

    Those were the days that we as students would hear that Justice Cornelius was visiting and he
    would be addressing the Peshawar Bar Association. Quite a few of us would skip classes to listen to his lecture. The other great jurist was Justice Mohammad Rustam Kayani who made one laugh as he spoke to the audience. Anwer Moorej bring up Justice Cornelius could not have forgotten Justice Kayani as they both bring nostagia of the 60s even though I was in my

  • Justar
    Mar 20, 2011 - 4:32PM

    @Feroze A Ursani:
    Does any one recall Justice Mohammed Bux Memon who worked closely with Justice AR Cornelius on the Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan case? From a story narrated by one of his sons to me, I believe Justice Mohammed Bux Memon wrote the landmark judgement over a period of three days spent in voluntary isolation (from his family) in his bedroom with his typewriter. Upon finishing his task and getting ready to leave, his children asked their mother (for it was forbidden for young children to speak directly to one’s father – a sign of respect in traditional Sindhi families in those days) where is Baba going? He replied . . . I am going to make history!
    I hope the good and honourable people of Pakistan are able to continue from where Justice Cornelius and his colleagues like Justice Mohammed Bux Memon have delivered.Recommend

  • Aasim Mumtaz
    Mar 20, 2011 - 10:51PM

    History has witnessed only few Judges who had an “Actual” independent Judicial Mind!
    Justice Cornelius was, for sure, amongst those and our legal literature owes him a alot!Recommend

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