A Proud Legacy
The retiring chief justice has left indelible footprints on the legacy of the superior judiciary in Pakistan.
With the retirement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry ended a glorious epoch in the annals of Pakistan’s judiciary. Appointed on June 30, 2005 to the post, Chaudhry was not only the longest-serving chief justice of the Supreme Court but also the youngest and most colorful one.
Born on December 12, 1948, he
By S.G. Jilanee joined the bar in 1974. In 1976, he was enrolled as advocate of the high court and in 1985 as an advocate of the Supreme Court. In 1989 he was appointed advocate general of Balochistan, became additional judge of the Balochistan High Court in 1990 and became its chief justice in April 1999.
On February 4, 2000 he was nominated as the justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. After the proclamation of the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) in January 2000, when four judges resigned after refusing to take oath under the PCO, President Musharraf appointed other judges, including Chaudhry, to the reorganized Supreme Court. This Supreme Court legitimized Musharraf’s
But after becoming chief justice in 2005, Chaudhry changed. He became independent and assertive. A conspiracy was therefore hatched to remove him to ensure a smooth sailing for Musharraf. Accordingly, complaints “for violating the norms of judicial propriety, corruption, seeking favors and misbehaving with senior lawyers,” with Advocate Naeem Bokhari in the vanguard, began to air against him, though none was filed before any competent authority.
On the basis of these complaints, Musharraf suspended Chaudhry on March 9, 2007 for misconduct, summoned him to the Army House and asked him to resign. But Chaudhry was no Munir. So, instead of kowtowing, he defied Musharraf and refused, whereupon Musharraf filed a reference to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) against Chaudhry.
Sensing that the judges of the SJC would follow Musharraf’s dictation, Chaudhry refused to have his case heard in the SJC. Instead, he challenged the allegations in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. On July 20, 2007, a thirteen-member bench of the Supreme Court vacated the order of his suspension and reinstated him to his position as chief justice.
On November 3, 2007, General Musharraf declared a state of emergency suspending the constitution and parliament. He put all the judges of the Supreme Court under house arrest, accusing them of violating Article 209 of the Constitution of 1973.
The house arrest was lifted on March 24, 2008 by the newly elected Prime Minister, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani. But he did not restore Chaudhry as CJ until March 16, 2009 when the long march by the lawyers agitating for Chaudhry’s reinstatement entered Islamabad.
Back in the saddle, Iftikhar Chaudhry almost overhauled the “system” by relentless action against evil-doers. He used his suo moto powers as nobody had done before, principally, to curb corruption, violation of women’s rights and human rights, besides offering relief to trade unions in some cases.
Just one suo moto action on the controversial rental power project case led to the return of several billion rupees to the national kitty. Suo moto notices of financial irregularities in the NICL and the EOBI and of corruption in the arrangements for Hajj brought some holy cows to book. A similar bold initiative enabled the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to recover thousands of canals of land worth billions of rupees from the illegal occupation of mafias.
Chaudhry relentlessly tried to rein in the executive and political leaders who ran amuck with power. For, example, when Waheeda Shah, a leader of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), slapped a presiding officer during elections, he took suo moto notice of the event and disqualified Shah.
Among other famous cases in which he took suo moto notice were the recovery of liquor from TV actress Atiqa Odho at an airport, graft allegations against his son Arsalan Iftikhar, bringing the powerful murderers of Shahzeb and a Rangers’ soldier who killed Sarfaraz Shah in broad daylight in Karachi, before the court.
Chaudhry never allowed any extraneous consideration to cloud his judgment. He had no hesitation in sending Yousuf Raza Gilani packing when the latter defied the Supreme Court’s order to write to the Swiss authorities to reopen the investigation against Asif Zardari. He was also the first one to take even the army to task for transgressing its powers.
Among his historic actions were suspension of the privatization of the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) on the plea of the PSM workers’ union and nullifying the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) that had sought to grant blanket amnesty to corrupt political leaders and bureaucrats.
A very sensitive issue that the CJ grappled with was the “missing persons’ case” relating to people picked up by the army. He pursued the case so vigorously that the authorities concerned were forced to produce 30 of the missing persons. He even threatened the army officer commanding the Frontier Constabulary with contempt of court proceedings for failing to appear before the court, in connection with the case. Forcing the military to submit to the process of the common law was an unprecedented event in Pakistan’s judicial history. Again, it was Chaudhry’s suo moto notice of the target killings in Karachi that jolted the rulers into action.
But when even Nelson Mandela had his detractors, it should be no surprise that Chief Justice Chaudhry, who fearlessly trod on many a powerful toe, had critics. Some accused him of exercising jurisdiction “in a political and partisan manner,” particularly, when the CJ annulled the NRO and went after President Zardari.
But, on balance, there can be no question that Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry set a new trend in judicial activity. He exorcised the ghost of Justice Munir and blazed a new trail injecting a full dose of self-esteem in the judiciary so that no Supreme Court chief justice will ever again genuflect before a dictator. He has left his footprints on the sands of time.
Paying tribute to the departing chief justice at the full court reference, Attorney General, Munir A Malik said: “Justice Chaudhry has transformed himself, transformed his court, transformed the law and indeed transformed some of us as well. He has made his court – both ideologically and jurisprudentially – the most influential institution of contemporary history,” adding that “a common denominator in his decisions and indeed the legacy of his court will be remembered in history as the Iftikhar Court.” That about sums up the legacy of the departing chief justice. The writer is a senior political analyst and former editor of SouthAsia Magazine.