Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Lofty men in black robes!

Mr. Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was reinstated as Pakistan Supreme Court Chief Justice by the judgment of the 13 member Bench of the Supreme Court on 20th July 2007. In a second part of the verdict, the Supreme Court, 10-3, threw out the reference against the Chief Justice filed by President Pervez Musharraf, calling it illegal. Earlier, Chief Justice Choudhry was engaged in doing precisely what the administration least wanted. He aired its dirty laundry and issued judgments seeking rectification. In 2006, he blocked a government bid to sell the majority of the state-owned Pakistan Steel Mills to a private consortium, a blow that proved a rare and embarrassing check on the administration. Following public outcry in January 2007, the judge also compelled the government to trace the whereabouts of terrorism suspects, many of whom had been allegedly jailed without evidence and prevented from contacting their families. When results were not produced fast enough, he chastised a government lawyer and expressed disappointment with the administration's efforts, a spat the media seized upon.
On 9th March 2007, General Pervez Musharraf virtually suspended Justice Choudhry from the high office on charges of misconduct. If you would want Musharraf’s side of the story, according to him: (i) CJ forced government officials to unlawfully help his son get admission to medical college and then had him appointed as Grade 18 Police Officer. (ii) CJ was entitled to use a 1700cc car, but he used a 3000cc
Mercedes and kept several other vehicles in his use in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. (iii) CJ required more protocol than he deserved. (iv) He required senior officials to receive him at airports and was also using helicopters and planes to go to private functions. (v) Use of a BMW Car "RAZIA 1" by his family. (vi) Different Oral and Written Orders in cases worth 55 million PKR. (vii) Asking for more perks than he was eligible for.
Within hours, the public and the lawyers rallied behind the Chief Justice to support him. On 12th March 2007, lawyers across Pakistan began boycotting all courts. There were widespread protests in cities of Lahore, Karachi and Quetta. In Lahore alone, more than twenty lawyers had been injured in clashes with police during demonstrations. What started with lawyers’ protests outside courts, in the streets, ended fortunately through a judicial denouement, was significant victory to the rule of law administered through the system of courts.
Who said that lawyer community has a crab mentality of pulling its fellow beings to doom in times of adversity? Forget small time occasions, when someone amongst them is considered for things slightly higher and petitions go aplenty against the candidate. Put up even an imaginary name as a likely candidate, the complaints box would still be full against a non-existent candidate! But symptoms of mass behavior have been exemplary, when it comes to upholding the independence of judiciary. On 25th April 1973, three eminent judges, Hegde, Shelat and Grover JJ had been superceded and a judge junior to them had been made the Chief Justice. The governing establishment said that they were looking for ‘forward looking’ men who understood the ‘winds of change’. Justice Hidyatullah J represented an emotional concern of the Bar in one word. He said that this was an attempt of not creating 'forward looking judges' but the 'judges looking forward' to the plumes of the office of Chief Justice. On 26th April 1973, the Supreme Court Bar Association passed a resolution strongly condemning the supercession and called upon all Bar Associations in India to observe 3rd May 1973 as Bar Solidarity Day and to abstain from court work. The call was enthusiastically supported by most of the Bar Associations all over India. This was probably the first occasion when the lawyers resorted to boycotting courts, which have become commonplace to express dissent to all types of situations affecting the dignity of the legal fraternity.
Musharraf wanted Choudhry out of way only to clear the decks for an easier extension of the Presidential term when the elections were scheduled around November 2007. With Choudhry firmly in seat and Musharraf’s strength further undermined by the skirmishes at Islamabad’s radical red mosque, it is Advantage Judiciary! Members of the legal fraternity have aspired for high political offices, though seldom have the politicians aspired to enter into the high offices of the judiciary. Subba Rao resigned his judgeship from the Supreme Court to contest for election to the post of President. Justice Jagannath Mishra was elected to the Rajya Sabha on a Congress ticket. Justice Bahar-ul-Islam got a Congress party ticket and then resigned from the Supreme Court to contest a parliament seat from Assam. All this proves that if Hercules could shoulder the globe, the men from legal fraternity could hold aloft at least the moon!

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