Home Editorial Editorial: A Judicial Crisis?

Editorial: A Judicial Crisis?

The suo motu proceedings into announcing a date for elections in Punjab, KP have exposed anew rifts within the apex court

by Editorial

Aamir Qureshi—AFP

Rifts within the Supreme Court of Pakistan have once again become embarrassingly public during the suo motu proceedings over a delay in announcing a date for elections in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial’s decision to take suo motu notice of the issue—while cases over it were already pending before the Lahore and Peshawar high courts—landed him in trouble with some apex court judges, as a visibly polarized nine-member bench disagreed over the legitimacy of his decision. This was only the beginning.

The judicial order for the suo motu was issued several days after the first hearing, exposing anew the rifts within the apex court. The media coverage of Justice Mandokhail’s note—which he had read out in the court—drew the CJP’s ire, who said it should not have been made public until it had been approved for reporting. Two other judges—Justices Athar Minallah and Yahya Afridi—also wrote notes questioning the legitimacy of the suo motu, adding that they would leave it to the CJP to decide whether they should remain on the bench. He appeared to choose their recusal—along with Justices Ijazul Ahsan and Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi—leaving a five-member bench to continue proceedings. When hearings resumed, he acknowledged their absence by saying: “four judges had graciously disassociated themselves from the bench to avoid wasting time on trivial matters, so that the case could proceed strictly in accordance with the Constitution.” A fourth note, penned by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, refused to recuse himself but registered his reservations over the suo motu notice as well as the “inappropriate” inclusion of a judge—Justice Naqvi—on the bench while he was a reference in the Supreme Judicial Council.

The split in the court has also played out in the political sphere. Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) Senior Vice-President Maryam Nawaz attracted the ire of judicial observers by accusing Justices Ahsan and Naqvi of being part of a “cabal of five” that was facilitating Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan. Her remarks have triggered a petition before the Lahore High Court, seeking the initiation of contempt proceedings over alleged attempts to scandalize the judges of the apex court.

The visible divisions within the top court have been brewing for some time. The Supreme Court is supposed to serve as the court of last resort, but over the past 15 years, it has increasingly moved beyond its constitutional role and taken on a key position in Pakistan’s political system. This has hampered the separation of powers envisaged in the Constitution, especially with rulings that appear to rewrite, rather than interpret, the country’s laws. Unfortunately, there is little light on the horizon. Any ruling by the Supreme Court is bound to further political polarization, with the subsequent instability hurting most the common man, already overburdened by rampant inflation and a precarious security situation.

Related Articles

Leave a Comment