Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial on Monday blamed the Supreme Court’s failure to reduce the backlog of cases under his tenure on constitutional petitions, which he lamented had “tested” the court.
“The court was put to test in a trying contest which was … hostile and aggressive. As a result we sat back and became victim and suffered in performance,” he said during a full court reference marking the commencement of the judicial year after the conclusion of three-month summer vacations. An annual exercise, the event took on special significance this year because it marked Bandial’s last such interaction prior to his retirement later this week.
According to data provided by the Supreme Court, the backlog of pending cases has risen to 56,544, which the CJP admitted was an alarming increase. He lamented that a large number of cases had been decided during the previous judicial year, but the process had slowed in February when constitutional cases with political undertones started pouring in.
Acknowledging the outsized role the Supreme Court took on in political matters under his tenure, the CJP regretted that several of his “innocent observations” had drawn criticism. He lamented that his promise of a “short and sweet judgment” in the NAB laws amendment case had been mocked, while his greeting of “good to see you” for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan had been taken out of context and misreported. “We expect accurate reporting from media,” he said.
Hoping that political and constitutional matters will subside so the court could focus more on disputes concerning ordinary litigants, he said the apex court’s ruling on conducting elections to the Punjab Assembly within 90 days had the backing of all judges, but its political undertones had caused difficulties.
Bandial also referred to a 2021 case in which the apex court had laid down guidelines for entertaining suo motu cases, noting that in the past nine months the court had only exercised its suo motu jurisdiction in one case. He also sought to dismiss criticism of the Supreme Court’s budgetary allocation, claiming it had returned 13 percent of its budget back to the state in the last fiscal year. Similarly, he claimed, people’s trust in the judiciary was evident from the controversial dam fund receiving deposits of Rs. 400,000 in the last month alone. He maintained the Rs. 18.6 billion in the dam fund was held with government securities, and was regulated by a SC bench.
While a justice’s retirement is usually marked by a separate full court reference, the CJP appeared to hint this might not happen, telling journalists they could grow “bored” by hearing the same person speak multiple times. “As I speak today as an outgoing CJP, there is a sense of gratitude for the fellow colleagues and I hope that I will cherish and carry this sense of gratefulness,” he said during his speech.
Bandial also praised his successor, Justice Qazi Faez Isa, describing him as an admirable person for whom he had great respect. Admitting to differences between the two over the past year, he said this was a “beauty” of the Supreme Court that it comprised fiercely independent judges having extraordinary intellect. When independent minds speak, he said, difference of opinion definitely emerges.
The outgoing CJP thanked his brother and sister judges for being kind to him, while recognizing their generosity, warmness and support. He specifically appreciated Justices Ayesha Malik and Musarrat Hilali, describing them as dynamic ladies who have empowered the court.
The full court reference was attended by 15 judges of the apex court—the only absence being Justice Yahya Afridi who is abroad. The CJP is set to retire Sept. 16, with his successor to assume the top slot a day later on Sept. 17.