Justice Isa is a test case

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Candid Corner

 

  • Both the judiciary and the state will be on trial

 

Much ruckus is being created regarding the filing of a reference against Mr Justice Qazi Faez Isa before the Supreme Judicial Council. This pertains to some of his undeclared properties which have been discovered out of the country. A judge of the Sindh High Court, Mr Justice K K Agha, also faces a similar reference before the SJC.

The filing of the reference against Mr Justice Isa is being construed as an attack on the judiciary by the political parties sitting in the opposition, particularly those whose leaders have either been convicted, or who are facing serious allegations for possessing assets beyond lawful means and having indulged in criminal acts of money laundering.

The very same leaders who are hollering their opposition to the filing of this reference are on record to have demanded accountability of the “judges and generals” alongside that of the politicians. If that be so, what is the noise all about now that such cases are actually being registered in fulfilment of their own demand? Is it because of the looming threat such a move poses to a brand of politics which those grown fat on the pickings of the state are desperate to prolong? This, inter alia, includes the use of public office to make illicit billions, appointing virtual criminals at key positions to render the state institutions dysfunctional, thus paving the way for rule by diktat, and holding the system hostage to block transparency and induction of a mechanism of checks and balances and ethical practices.

Notwithstanding the military interventions in the past and the damage these did to the national fabric, it is the political leadership that should ascend the moral high ground

More importantly, why is it that the forces which were most vociferous in drumming up noise against the former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr Justice Saqib Nisar, are now dubbing the moving of a rightful reference as an attack on the judiciary? It is here that one needs to look into the way state institutions have been manipulated in the past through the appointment of cronies, or such other people as would be amenable to a vitiated pattern of thinking.

Of the many judgements attributed to Mr Justice Isa, there is none more dubious than the closing of the Hudaibiya Paper Mills proceedings against the Sharifs. This was reckoned as an open-and-shut case as the former Finance Minister, Ishaq Dar, now an absconder, had submitted a statement spread over more than 40 pages conceding he had indulged in money-laundering to the tune of millions of dollars on behalf of the Sharifs by opening fictitious accounts. The statement makes for a mind-boggling confession of crime.

Mr Justice Isa did not just throw the case out. He barred its hearing by any other court of law. I wonder whether he could have done this even by stretching the statute book to smithereens.

At some stage during the hearing of the case, he also reportedly threatened the prosecutor would be charged with contempt if he were to continue pursuing a certain line of argument. What could be a graver travesty than this?

Mr Justice Isa did this in a case that was based on the most comprehensive prosecution of white-collar crime in the history of the country and a punishment was manifest which would have contributed immensely to the eradication of such crimes in the future.

The concept of treating some institutions or their practitioners as sacrosanct and beyond the pale of law is a trickery drummed deep into the fabric of the society, with everyone conforming to it either on account of the fear syndrome, or their own selfish motives which can be best served by according allegiance to such deception, even becoming an active part of the crime syndicate operated by the complicit mafias.

One may or may not agree with what the incumbent government is doing in combating the grave challenges that the country faces, both inherited and of its own making, the fact that it has dared to pursue accountability as an inherent component of governance is praiseworthy. But, it must also be faced that no single individual can do it. It has to be transformed into a collective movement which every individual and institution should pursue fearlessly, with vigour, competence and commitment.

More importantly, if those who are entrusted with the responsibility of being the guardians of the rule of law become its contemnors, it would not only bring shame to the institutions they represent, it would also deprive the society of the prospect of securing justice. It, therefore, is the responsibility of people who have the good sense and the necessary wherewithal to make it their priority to render the society sensitive to the long-term benefits that would accrue if the state and its institutions were managed in strict conformity with the law.

This should become the clarion call, not raising self-serving objections to making everyone accountable before law. In fact, that is the only way for the state and societies to survive and prosper in an environment which is becoming increasingly challenging with the passage of time. They must deliberate exhaustively in chalking out measures to pursue not only to keep step with the outside world, but even surge ahead. This poses a grave challenge for Pakistan which has been grossly ravaged through corrupt, inept and criminalised governance in the past.

This reference is a step in the right direction. It is not an indictment. It is only a manifestation of a resolve to hold everyone accountable before law. It is now for the SJC to decide in the matter and see whether Mr Justice Isa’s conduct has been in keeping with his stature as a judge of the apex court and, more importantly, as a law-abiding citizen of the country.

If this process were to be stalled for any reason, or if an exception were to be created in the case of Mr Justice Isa, it would become the rationale for others to indulge likewise and the law would be rendered bereft of its merit and writ. Then, it would be monkey business for all with the few refusing to reap its lucrative pickings suffering the consequences.

Likewise, it is also time for the errant politicians to ponder the hazardous mess that they have created. Notwithstanding the military interventions in the past and the damage these did to the national fabric, it is the political leadership that should ascend the moral high ground to give the state its much-needed writ and the people their much-needed hope so that they could look forward to better times.

If Mr Justice Isa has erred, he should be held accountable like everyone else. If he hasn’t, his exoneration shall lend him credibility and more power to the institution he represents. Invoking the services of his elders, real or otherwise, or raising clumsy noises underwritten with trademark intent to seek reprieve would not be an honourable act. In fact, the very thought would be unworthy of a judge.

In the broader picture, Mr Justice Isa is not important. Neither is any other judge. The institution they represent is important. It is the judiciary that should stand paramount. That will be when those who represent it are held fully accountable for their acts. Otherwise, it is the writ of the judiciary that shall be compromised and, consequently, justice administered the death knell.