Home Editorial Editorial: Exit, Justice Bandial

Editorial: Exit, Justice Bandial

The outgoing CJP leaves behind a legacy marred by controversy arising from his reliance on ‘likeminded’ judges

by Editorial

Photo courtesy Supreme Court of Pakistan

Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial will retire on Sept. 16, leaving a legacy marred by a majority of political parties criticizing his “bias” for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). This ire grew in fervor earlier this year when he directed police to produce PTI chief Imran Khan before court and greeted the former prime minister with “good to see you,” and ended proceedings by wishing him “good luck.” Then-information minister Marryium Aurangzeb went so far as to declare that the CJP had become so controversial, he should voluntarily resign; a rare utterance even in Pakistan’s politically volatile history.

To counter the accusations, Bandial has dished out one lame excuse after another, failing to negate the public’s view of him as a CJP who went out of his way to favor a politician ousted from power. Not helping is his repeated inclusion of “likeminded judges” to benches hearing political and constitutional cases, and his insistence on ignoring the seniority principle while elevating judges to the Supreme Court despite opposition by both his brother judges and various bar associations.

Over the past year, there have been several attempts to counter Bandial’s blatant partiality. The former coalition government requested—with the backing of several judges—the constitution of a full-court bench to hear constitutional cases. These pleas were repeatedly denied, triggering politicking within the Supreme Court, with media noting the CJP had gathered eight judges on his side, while seven opposed his attempts to interfere in Parliament. The opposing side, per media, had “serious reservations” about the CJP’s discretionary powers to form benches, list cases, invoke suo motu jurisdiction and initiate misconduct proceedings. Unsurprisingly, these seven were rarely included in benches hearing cases related to the PTI.

The biggest scandal of his tenure, however, was the leaking of an alleged call between his mother-in-law and the wife of one of Khan’s lawyers. In the call, the two women discuss attending a PTI rally; describe the party’s opponents as “traitors”; and claim to have exchanged messages with the CJP and Justice Munib Akhtar regarding sub judice matters. The alleged call, a probe into which Bandial blocked through court orders, has exposed the outgoing CJP’s partiality in a manner rarely seen in the history of Pakistan’s superior judiciary.

Throughout his tenure, Bandial urged the public, media and political parties to “criticize judgments not judges.” This useless cliché did little to counter the offense taken by impartial observers over his blatant remarks. With his exit, Bandial joins the ranks of Supreme Court judges—such as predecessors Saqib Nisar, Gulzar Ahmed, Asif Saeed Khosa, Iftikhar Chaudhry—whose controversial behavior has left a shady judicial history that the average Pakistani has no choice but to digest.

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