Monday, August 13, 2012

Daily times editorial Aug 14, 2012

Backlash against the judiciary Ousted Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani has delivered a strongly worded message to our overactive judiciary. He says if another PM is ousted in similar fashion, the PPP will not take it lying down and will resist, since it considers the repetition of such a move would be tantamount to destabilising, dividing, and arguably disintegrating the country. He went on to sarcastically remark that if the judiciary wants to take all the decisions, we should dissolve parliament, send all the elected representatives home, and let the judiciary take charge of the government. He said he had appeared before the judiciary as a mark of respect, but this was not reciprocated. He accepted the court’s decision for the sake of democracy and the country, he added. He left the question of appearance before the Supreme Court on its summons to his successor, Raja Pervez Ashraf’s judgement. It was time, Gilani argued, for the judiciary to correct past mistakes such as the ‘doctrine of necessity’, which contributed to the disintegration of Pakistan in 1971. The judiciary was not a political party, he continued, and therefore should not have (or be seen to have) any political agenda. The judiciary’s activism could trigger an intervention by a ‘third force’, he warned. The contempt law was only being used against politicians who respected the verdicts of the judiciary, and not against those elements or forces that didn’t give two hoots for its orders. He said further that he would suggest to the PPP a train march from Lahore to Karachi in support of the supremacy of parliament, and implied that if even that did not work, the party would resort to street protests and take the matter to the people. The MQM chief Altaf Hussain has added his voice to those troubled by the present scenario of confrontation between the government and the judiciary. Addressing a rally of his party in Karachi, Altaf Hussain appealed to both sides to ‘accept’ each other and reconcile for the sake of democracy and the country. And in an interesting aside, the country that gave the contempt of court law to the world, dating from the 14th century, the UK, is contemplating repealing it and modifying it to match modern day requirements. Unlike Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry’s contention that the concept of the supremacy of parliament inherited from Britain was ‘out of date’, the country that is considered the mother of all parliaments finds the ancient contempt law actually out of date. The reasoning behind the proposal is both conceptual as well as based on the experience gained from practice. The contempt law as it stands in the UK has not been used since the 1930s. And yet the judiciary in the UK is held in the highest esteem. That is because the prudence and restraint within the parameters of the law practiced by it has helped over time to accord it the respect and dignity it deserves. Our judiciary too could take a leaf or two out of the book of the British judiciary. Unfortunately, as former PM Gilani also pointed out, our judiciary has a great deal to rectify on the basis of its track record. Endorsing military coups and justifying usurpers of power, taking oaths under PCOs and allowing military dictators to amend the constitution at their whim and will are all wrongs that need to be relegated to a closed chapter. The defiance of the will of a military dictator by Chief Justice Chaudhry galvanised the country in a movement that finally led to the ushering in of democracy (albeit with the tragic loss of Benazir Bhutto along the way) and the exit of General Musharraf. The restored and increasingly independent judiciary has high hopes of the people riding on it. This is a great responsibility, but it must and can only be fulfilled by adhering not only to the letter of the law, but also its spirit and √©lan. Unfortunately, the perception is growing of partisanship by the present restored judiciary. This is not only bad for the incumbents, it could cause permanent damage to the respect and dignity of the judicial institution. The best course under the circumstances, before the growing backlash against the judiciary assumes critical mass, would be to exercise judicial restraint and try to find solutions to the impasse with the government that best suits the interests of the country and the fraught circumstances in which it finds itself at present.

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