What next for our men in black?

Published: December 7, 2013

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary arriving in Chakwal. Photo: Reuters

Rarely has a man in Pakistan polarised opinion so regularly. To his supporters, he is a superhero who steps in every time things start to fall apart in Pakistan. To his critics, he is power hungry and has overstepped his authority multiple times.

Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is set to retire on December 11, 2013. Or at least that is what the plan is so far. In a country like Pakistan, plans seem to fall apart more often than not. However if all sense prevails, Iftikhar Chaudhry will sleep on the night of December 11, 2013, knowing that he won’t need to set an early alarm.

His rise to prominence began in 1999, when he took over the helms at the Balochistan High Court. He went on to validate the Legal Framework Order (LFO) Ordinance, and finally took oath as the country’s chief justice in 2005.

What transpired after is there for everyone to see, and does not need to be covered again.

The Lawyer’s movement contributed to former president Musharraf’s resignation in August 2008

In the time since Iftikhar Chaudhry first became chief justice, there has been one prominent change in the power dynamics of Pakistan — the judiciary has suddenly come into the limelight. The judiciary has developed into a strong organ in the last few years. However, the blessing of power has never done well with people from our part of the world. For us, a large overflow of power eventually leads to blurred visions of grandeur, where everything in the distance appears to be ours for the taking.

In my opinion, the judiciary has fallen into this very pit-hole.

Every state organ has its own set of duties and every state organ has its own limits, and a system of checks and balances. Ever since the emotionally charged judicial movement that eventually led to Iftikhar Chaudhry being reinstated, many have suggested that the system has been overstretched.

The judiciary, pretty much like the media, seems to be beyond critique these days since every finger pointed at them touches a nerve. What’s disturbing is that the head of our judiciary has never taken notice of incidents of lawyers stepping over the line and tarnishing the reputation of his own institution.

Where was the justice, law and equality hoopla when lawyers brutally beat up the police outside a session court in Lahore some years back? Not only did they mercilessly beat up the man, they went on to inflict damage on police vehicles and the court building.

This is just one of the many incidents that were documented. There are countless others where these protectors of equality and justice have overstepped the line. While its true every institution has its black sheep, the trouble with the black sheep in Pakistan’s judiciary is the lack of a shepherd. Incidents like these are swept under the rug, while everything else is splashed across national newspapers and the electronic media.

Justice Chaudhry has been bold enough to take action across a multitude of issues, but his choice of action has raised its share of criticism, primarily focused on the fact that the judiciary is not a political institution. Suo-Motu actions in the last few years have become more frequent than ever before and what we have as a result is the judiciary stepping into political issues ever so frequently.

This has set a dangerous precedent.

While it is true that it is not fair to generalise an entire institution on the misdemeanour of a few, what also needs to be accepted is that with the judiciary more powerful and active than ever before in Pakistan’s history, the possibility of future generations of lawyers and judges abusing the new power they wield cannot be discounted.

The judiciary under Iftikhar Chaudhry became very politically active. Our CJ leaves behind an institution that has been vested with a lot of power, and power may be a blessing but excess of anything is bad. How Pakistan’s judicial arm carries forward such a legacy in to the future remains to be seen.

salman Zafar

Salman Zafar

The writer works in the Education Sector and tweets as @salmanzafar1985 (twitter.com/salmanzafar1985)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.