The recent not-so-veiled criticism of the judiciary by the prime minister didn’t go down well with the country’s top judges. Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa made a scathing rejoinder on Wednesday advising Imran Khan not to “taunt the judiciary” in any way.
The prime minister is visibly unhappy with the Lahore High Court (LHC) which earlier this week overruled a government condition for former premier Nawaz Sharif to submit a multibillion-rupee indemnity bond for permission to fly abroad for medical treatment. And the premier appealed to the CJP Khosa and his successor on Monday to “restore” the public’s trust in the judiciary.
“I do not want to comment on the particular case [of Nawaz Sharif], which the prime minister had referred to but he [PM] will be aware that he himself gave [Nawaz] permission to go abroad.
“That's why he should refrain from making such statements. No one is perfect. We are changing. Don’t compare us with the judiciary which had existed before 2009,” said Justice Khosa, who is set to retire next month, while addressing a ceremony at the Supreme Court for the inauguration of mobile apps and other facilities for litigants and lawyers.
Talking with reference to the LHC order, Justice Khosa said: “There was only discussion on modalities of the matter [Nawaz Sharif’s exit] before the LHC. Don’t taunt us about powerful people as no one is powerful before the court. Only the law is powerful.”
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He said the judiciary is independent as a result of the 2009 lawyers’ movement, and working in accordance with the law and the Constitution.
He reminded that the post-2009 judiciary was the one which had convicted one prime minster [Yousuf Raza Gilani] and disqualified another [Nawaz Sharif] and was soon going to decide the high treason case against a former army chief [General Pervez Musharraf].
Earlier, he said, there was a perception that courts were only hearing cases of the powerful people while cases of the weak were not taken up. Presenting facts and figures, the CJP said there were around 3,100 judges and judicial magistrates in the entire country who had decided 3.6 million cases.
“All of them were not powerful but most of them were poor and weak. Therefore, [it is established that] all are equal in the eyes of law,” he added.
He said the courts decide cases on merit without fear or favour and judges are burning the midnight oil by working within the existing resources instead of demanding more resources or amendments in law.
The Supreme Court has decided almost all criminal appeals pending for the 25 years. The establishment of model trial courts across the country has given marvelous results and reduced the backlog of murder, narcotics, magistrate trials and civil appeals, including rent and family cases, Justice Khosa said.
He said the model courts had concluded more than 73,000 trials in a short span of time and provided relief to the litigants by achieving target of zero pendency in most of districts or district headquarters.
Moreover, the Supreme Court also took steps for police reforms and the post of SP complaints was created in each district, reducing cases in district courts by 30% and high courts by 15%.
He said all social segments that criticise judges should be careful “because they (judges) are working hard day and night. Encourage them rather than criticising them."
The chief justice, however, welcomed PM Imran’s offer to provide resources to the judiciary and said such measures would go a long way in improving matters. He said the judiciary is now feeling a dearth of resources and so the PM announcement is "very timely".
Commenting on the CJP speech, the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Qalb-e-Hassan said it would have been much better if the chief justice had not responded. Judges speak through their judgments rather than speeches, he added.
The SCBA chief, however, believes that the PM's statement was also inappropriate.
One section of lawyers believes that incumbent CJP fully allowed the PTI-led government to carry on its ‘accountability’ campaign due to which several opposition leaders are still behind bars and the court is not redressing their grievances.
Unlike his predecessors, CJP Khosa also did not interfere in governance issues. No suo motu has been taken by him over failure of the executive. A senior lawyer said the PTI is a beneficiary of Panamagate episode and the judiciary is the biggest loser.