Everything seemed to be going well just before the curtain fell on the Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry show.
But the end of a long and celebrated tenure didn’t seem to go to plan – and the outgoing chief justice left on an unpleasant note of controversy.
First, the felicitations and salutes were replaced by a boycott by the media – the very same platform that raised him on a pedestal and helped fuel Justice Chaudhry’s judicial activism for over half a decade.
The controversy erupted after one media group was given privilege over others and got access to footage of the proceedings of the full court reference held for Justice Chaudhry’s retirement.
And that wasn’t the extent of it.
During the full court reference held in Justice Chaudhry’s honour, his successor, Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, raised a big question mark over the one policy that most defined the outgoing chief justice’s legacy: suo motu notices.
“There is a need to determine the limits and contours of [the judiciary’s] jurisdiction under Article 184(3) of the Constitution with a view to discourage frivolous petitions and to prevent the misuse of jurisdiction by vested interests,” he said during the full court reference.
Elaborating, Justice Jillani said, “The apex court, on account of its mandate under Article 184(3) and 187, may be called upon to fill gaps between law and social dynamics. But while doing so, the court has to defer to an equally important constitutional value of the trichotomy of powers.”
Supreme Court Bar Association President Kamran Murtaza and Pakistan Bar Council Vice Chairperson Syed Qalb-e-Hassan appreciated Justice Chaudhry but also shared their concerns about the discriminatory steps taken during his tenure, especially the suo motu jurisdiction of the court and appointing “ineligible judges”.
Charged as usual, Justice Chaudhry announced his retirement at his farewell party, saying, “It’s a rainy day today and it was a rainy day when I was restored in 2009.”
Addressing a packed courtroom the outgoing chief justice thanked his wife and children for standing by him during difficult times.
Responding to his successor’s concerns, the relentless Justice Chaudhry emphasised on the importance of the court’s interference in issues of public importance. “It is mandated to protect the public against the violation of their fundamental rights, abuse of power and arbitrariness.”
The court, he admitted, was often criticised for adjudicating on policy matters that fall in the executive’s domain. However, he justified this saying the courts had endeavoured to ensure that the fundamental rights of citizens are not violated by unfair policies.
He talked about the Supreme Court’s Human Rights Cell (HRC) that he said had provided the common man with unprecedented access to justice.
Attorney-General Muneer A Malik was all praise too. “Justice Chaudhry has transformed himself, transformed his court, transformed the law and indeed transformed some of us as well.”
He has made his court – both ideologically and jurisprudentially – the most influential institution of contemporary history, said the attorney-general. He said that a common denominator in his decisions and indeed the legacy of his court will be remembered in history as the “Iftikhar Court.”
But even he acknowledged that the use of suo motu jurisdiction is contentious, but said just because it was a road less travelled does not mean it is not tread upon.
At the end of the day, while the chief justice exited the reference and the judiciary with his head held high, the media boycott, the questioning of his penchant for suo motus and his successor’s scepticism ruined the script of what was meant to be a perfect and widely-celebrated send-off.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2013.
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