This column has been used in the past to describe how in mature democracies with a strong culture of free speech, the judges can be criticised endlessly. And this is not just talking about criticism of judgements – the permissibility of which shouldn’t even be a question – but aspersions on the judges’ very competence and agendas.
“Enemies of the people,” screamed the headline of a major English daily when a British high court had ruled that a mere referendum wasn’t enough for the so-called Brexit and that the decision had to be ratified through parliament as well. Eyes were raised at such direct attacks on the Lordships but the question of the papers being called in for contempt was unthinkable.
The criticism of judges in our neck of the woods is still a tricky affair, given their historically thin skins. Once upon a time, even the mention of judicial lily livers when it came to the okaying of coups was considered contemptuous, though things have thankfully move beyond that. Previous judges were at fault, but the institution has changed now, is the official line.
But have things changed. Is the judiciary yet another institution that is forgetting its place?
The Pakistani press has had a say on the issue, most acerbically by Talat Hussein and Babar Sattar, both for The News, and others in other papers in a slightly muted tone.
The Economist, however, didn’t have any such concerns with the subject matter and wrote a piece in their tradition of wry humour. The title of the piece you are reading is actually their caption under the photo of the chief justice.
The bit about the milk being used as a rhetorical device to illustrate the extent to which the judiciary is perceived to be stepping out of its bounds. Our Lordship’s search around for “clean air, clean water and pure milk” is causing some dismay and providing humour to others.
Any article about judicial overreach is bound to have some passing mention of Iftikhar Chaudhry, as does this one, talking specifically about a “potential $12.5bn bill left by Mr Chaudhry’s energetic voiding of government contracts with foreign firms.”
The Economist speaks of the distortion currently being observed in the political landscape where the chief justice is acting like some sort of political opposition, while the actual political opposition is cheering him on.
Yet, for all this overstepping of bounds, there isn’t yet a squeak against the military, despite it being a potential buffet table of suo motu actions. In fact, when the chief justice of the Islamabad High Court showed some gumption and made comments against the military’s role in the recent sit-in by Tehrik-e-Labaik Ya Rasoolullah, he was chastised by the apex court and the Supreme Judicial Council issued a notice against him for making “unwarranted comments about some important constitutional institutions.”
Outsiders peering in, foreign journalists and observers, are often accused of not being aware of the nuances and baggage of the lay of the land and its history. True, but at times, a fresh set of eyes observing from the outside can cut to the quick rather effortlessly, unhindered by whatever context that there may be.