Report dings lawyers and CJP: WSJ

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In 2008, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry became the symbol of the lawyers’ movement which toppled an unelected president and brought democracy back to the country. Harvard Law School even presented Chaudhry with its Medal of Freedom.
However, according to Wall Street Journal, a new report by the International Commission of Jurists, a Geneva-based nongovernment organization of judges and lawyers, suggests his legacy might be more complicated.
The report, released this month and based on a field trip to Pakistan last fall, paints a picture of a judiciary under Justice Chaudhry that is exercising unusually wide-ranging powers.
Pakistan’s judiciary has, during Chaudhry’s tenure as chief justice, stepped into areas normally reserved for a nation’s government, raising concerns over the balance of power, the report said.
It noted that judges in Pakistan are increasingly initiating court proceedings on issues – as opposed to hearing cases brought by plaintiffs.
The courts often launch these so-called “suo moto” cases in instances where the government has failed to take action. The report said in some cases this helps to protect the rule of law.
It cited an example last year when paramilitary forces were caught on video shooting dead a teenager who was pleading for his life. The Supreme Court ordered senior paramilitary officers removed from their posts within three days and told a state prosecutor to launch an investigation.
But in other cases Chaudhry appears to arbitrarily initiate “suo moto” proceedings based on articles in Pakistani newspapers, the report said. “This introduces a certain element of chance to the practice which is hardly compatible with the rule of law.”
A notable example of this, not contained in the ICJ report, involves Atiqa Odho, a Pakistani television actor who was allegedly detained last year at Karachi airport with liquor in her luggage but later released without charges. (Alcohol is illegal in Pakistan.)
Chaudhry, on reading media reports, ordered authorities to register a case against Ms. Odho, which they did. A court is yet to rule in the case.
Attempts to reach Chaudhry were not successful.
In another well-known example, the Supreme Court tried to rule on the price of sugar – a matter usually left to government or market forces.
Chaudhry has fought in recent years to weaken the role of Parliament in appointing judges, the report noted. Under Pakistan’s constitution, a judicial commission, including the chief justice, nominates judges. But a parliamentary committee has the right to reject or confirm the nominations.
Last year, the Supreme Court overturned the committee’s decision to reject the appointment of a number of high court judges whom the judicial commission had recommended.
The report found the “authority of the Parliamentary Committee was reduced drastically,” by that judgment.
The authors nodded to concerns about the failure of governance in Pakistan. But it also pointed out the pitfalls of a judiciary trying to fill the role of an administration.
“Parliament and Government are weak, which leads to the Supreme Court filling the gap by intervening in matters germane to the administration,” the report said. “This occurs to the extent that the Supreme Court even…intervenes to strengthen its own and particularly the power of the Chief Justice as far as the appointment of judges is concerned. A concern in respect of the balance of powers thereby arises.”
The report did not get into an ongoing struggle between the judiciary and the government of President Asif Ali Zardari. The Supreme Court in February charged Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani with contempt of court for failing to re-open a corruption case against Zardari.
Government officials claim the case is the ultimate example of judicial overreach, while the court says Gilani has failed to follow its orders.
The court has not yet made a ruling. Gilani could be dismissed from office and face six months in jail if found guilty.

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