‘Are the courts functioning?’

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  • A source of solace

During the Second World War, when the Luftwaffe (German air force) was wreaking havoc over London with its incessant bombing attacks, the British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill took cognizance of the heavy casualties and economic devastation. He asked, “Are the courts functioning?” When told that the judges were dispensing justice as normal, Churchill replied, “Thank God. If the courts are working, nothing can go wrong.”

Pakistan, which is facing a crisis no less than WW II because of terror attacks, chaos and turmoil in the political arena, acute shortage of energy and water, near absence of law and order, corruption charges against its leaders, mounting international debt, aggression by both its eastern and western neighbours and constant threats by US President Donald Trump, should ask the same question. Unfortunately, the same courts which dispense justice are being denigrated by the politicians that are under trial for corruption charges.

Day in day out, Mian Nawaz Sharif, the deposed prime minister and his daughter Maryam Nawaz bad mouth the judiciary and declare that the vote of the people absolves them of any wrong doing. Even a cursory glance at the Constitution of Pakistan, Part VII: The Judicature, Chapter 1, “The Courts deals with the Establishment and Jurisdiction of Courts” confirms the validity of the legal institutions. It elucidates that “There shall be a Supreme Court of Pakistan, a High Court for each Province and a High Court for the Islamabad Capital Territory and such courts as may be established by law. No court shall have any jurisdiction save as is or may be conferred on it by the Constitution or by under any law. The Judiciary shall be separated progressively from the Executive…”

Transgression by the rulers is more serious than by ordinary plebeians. The law is the same for all but those who wield authority and defend that law should be dealt with harshly if they chose to trample the law

Mian Nawaz Sharif et alia stress that the people’s vote’s sanctity must be respected and the people have exonerated the former prime minister and his family. In his political rallies, he promises that after winning the elections in 2018, he will restore justice and the sanctity of the vote. What held him back from doing so in his three previous terms as prime minister?

There are serious problems with such a conjecture. Firstly, the Constitution has provided checks on unbridled power. The representatives of the people who get elected through the ballot box and are empowered to make the laws via the parliament, have to be different from those who interpret the laws i.e. the judiciary; that is the essence of democracy. The question that is to be asked is was the sanctity of the vote maintained when the persons elected were holders of iqamas of a foreign state? There was a conflict of interest if they were employees of a foreign state.

If hordes of masses were to decide whether a person is guilty of a crime he or she is accused of, then only chaos through mobocracy will prevail. The difference in dictatorship and democracy is that in the latter, the will of the people prevails but only to the extent of electing their representatives to parliament. The peoples’ court, in its wisdom and interpretation of the law, decides the guilt or innocence of an accused and adjudicates punitive action if any.

If the masses were to try people then lynching like the ones observed during revolutions or breakdown of law and order would become the order of the day. If demagogues desired a verdict of their choice, all they require is a rent-a-crowd, which will cheer in “nays” or “ayes” to deliver the requisite “judgment.”

The Supreme Court of Pakistan is the last firewall standing against dishonest leaders. Attacking them is tantamount to declaring war on the people of Pakistan since democracy does not conclude with the casting of the vote only. Transparency and accountability are essential elements of democracy. Open abuse and threats to the Supreme Court of Pakistan is sedition and amounts to rebellion as well as challenging the Constitution. If an accused is not satisfied with the merit of a decision, the law itself provides the means to seek recourse. Appealing to the masses for overturning a judgment of the court is not only fallacious but sets the precedence for erosion of democratic principles.

The judiciary has come a long way in Pakistan where totalitarian regimes in the past forced it to legitimise their usurpation of power; where prosecutors were made to disappear, witnesses silenced, judges harassed and forced to flee the country when their children were threatened, their lives put at risk when they dared to challenge the authoritative and dominant.

Transgression by the rulers is more serious than by ordinary plebeians. The law is the same for all but those who wield authority and defend that law should be dealt with harshly if they chose to trample the law under their feet. Mian Nawaz Sharif flaunts his piety but he should take a leaf from the book of the Second Caliph of Islam, Hazrat Umar (RA). On one occasion, before starting his address to the congregation at Friday prayers, a young Muslim challenged him. The young man inquired that each one of them had been issued a piece of cloth from the Bait ul Mal but he observed Caliph Umar (RA) to be using two pieces of cloth. He wanted to know what right had the caliph to get a share twice the share of an ordinary Muslim.

Before Umar (RA) could explain, Abdullah the son of Umar (RA) rose up and said, “Friends, the truth of the matter is that like every other person my father and myself obtained a piece of cloth each from the Bait ul Mal. My father is so tall that the piece of cloth that he got from the Bait ul Mal did not suffice him. So I gave him my piece of the cloth”.

Such is the greatness of the leaders who we should emulate not only in our daily lives but especially those who are entrusted the responsibility of power. The disqualified prime minister has not only lost the mantle of office but also the right to lead his party. Even his party, which carried his name, has lost its identity but prima facie, he has not learnt his lesson.

Instead of questioning the verdict meted out to him and declaring war on the judiciary, Mian Nawaz Sharif should adopt the judicial process of seeking redress if he feels he has been wronged. The courts are functioning and that should be a source of solace for us.

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