Friday, March 5, 2010

When judges speak

Editorial -- Express Tribune (coming out soon in the market)

Judges are supposed to speak through their judgments or that is what seems to be the traditional view of at least the superior judiciary. To a certain extent, this view – prevalent in the subcontinent – is a legacy of British rule in that in the Anglo-Saxon view of things, judges should normally lead a secluded life away from the public realm and should not be seen to be mingling with politicians, bureaucrats or other government officials. This seclusion or detachment if you will is deemed necessary for preserving the judiciary’s impartiality and it is perhaps this concept of being physically away from the public eye that is seen as being a traditional view of how judges should behave and conduct themselves. Furthermore, this seclusion from the public sphere is deemed to lend authenticity and greater moral validity to their judgments. The question is that does this still happen in today’s Pakistan? Do the judges of today still go about conducting themselves in the same manner that judges of days gone by – Justice A R Cornelius, Justice M R Kayani or later Justices Dorab Patel and Fakhruddin G Ebrahim – conducted themselves?
It is in this context that one chooses – with the utmost of respect and no ill-will of course – to comment on remarks made by Justice Javed Iqbal, the seniormost judge of the Supreme Court to participants of the National School of Public Policy in Islamabad on March 4. Justice Iqbal spoke in very glowing terms of his boss, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, saying that he had “changed the course of history and the current democratic struggle was there because of his courage and struggle”. He further said that the chief justice was “a symbol of bravery, boldness and rule of law” and was “acclaimed for supremacy of the Constitution” not only in Pakistan “but across the world”. Justice Iqbal also talked of a personal anecdote saying that when he took suo motu notice of a case involving a plot of land in Balochistan meant for hospital a former chief minister of the province offered him 50 plots for judicial officers in Gwadar and that he had declined the offer because “this wealth belongs to the nation and the country”.
While the honourable judge is perfectly right in saying that for far too long governments have misappropriated precious resources of the land which are for its people and it was about time that the superior judiciary did something about it. That is a fair statement and shows to the general public that those who sit in the Supreme Court are concerned about the plight of ordinary people and about corruption. However, a line should be drawn somewhere because after all the job of the judiciary is to deliver judicial verdicts that seek to uphold and reinforce the ideals as embodied in a country’s constitution. There job – and one says this again with the utmost of respect – is not per se to act like politicians and to defend their superiors at public forums. If the judgments are good, delivered in a reasonable amount of time and if justice is seen to be served by the people of this country then there will be no need for a public endorsement of the chief justice and his actions by his number two. Such acts come more within the job description of a politician because after all their work relates to communicating with the general public and in trying to build alliances to either remain or ascend to public office. Judges should not aspire to do that and if they wish to do so, they should leave their black robes and join a political party.

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