The limits of judicial activism

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Hazards of having too much on the plate    

In a country where poor governance is the norm, judicial activism is generally supported by those fed up with government’s lack of responsiveness. Many would agree that the government itself provides space to the courts through sheer inertia, misguided priorities and political exigencies. Intervening in the government’s turf however may lead to heavy costs. Not only does it jolt the system based on the separation of powers but also judges may not be aware of the intricacies of certain issues and deliver harmful verdicts.  Judgments over Reko Diq, Karkey rental power project and the privatization of PSM lay bare the courts’ limitations.

The Saqib Nisar court has taken up equally complex issues and tried to seek simplistic solutions. One would agree that the provision of clean drinking water and better health facilities are among the duties of an elected government while free and compulsory education to all children from five to sixteen years is a constitutional obligation. The PML-N government however spent mega funds on high visibility infrastructure projects to win votes. Even if all the money spent on these projects had been diverted to education, health and social development, it would have failed to achieve the long term targets in the respective areas as much more funds are needed year after year that successive governments can divert from the budget to these sectors.

The SC now wants a doctor to be health secretary negating the time-tested policy of appointing generalists with a wider outlook to federal secretarial posts. The court has already gone many steps further by striking down a parliamentary legislation.  There are already indications of the judicial overreach leading to a backlash. The President Karachi Bar Association Haider Imam Rizvi advised the judiciary to remain focused on its constitutional role of dispute resolution and enforcement of the rule of law ‘instead of making unnecessary speeches and comments’. Also, the Supreme Court must not be dragged into the political fray which is bound to create controversy and invite public and political response. This he says is harmful for the prestige, dignity and public perception of the judiciary. Quite a few would readily agree.