Will justice remain for ever elusive for the people of Pakistan?
Important questions have since agitated many minds: Would the judges who were restored as a result of political pressure brought upon President Zardari by Mr. Sharif be fair when deciding Mr. Sharif’s political future through cases that he is pursuing before them? Would Mr. Sharif be facilitated by any other means by the judiciary to become eligible to contest elections when as a convict he cannot?
There are also questions being raised about a possible understanding with the Zardari government. News reports said that the Supreme Court will not bring the NRO under judicial review. Is this a quid pro quo for reinstatement, one might ask?
Independent observers believe that extensive media and public campaign of reinstatement of judges could not have been sustained for two years without funding from an outside party or parties. The way this campaign was run, the overt and the covert costs could easily run into several billions, which one would presume neither the lawyers nor the judges could afford. In the absence of any explanation, the general belief that funds were provided by Mr. Sharif, the wealthiest of Pakistan’s wealthy, gains credence. If true, it was a small price to pay for political resuscitation.
Every one knows that Sharif brothers had a strong motive in seeing Justice Chaudhry and other judges back in their seats. Considering the importance and complexity of their legal cases for their own political rehabilitation they needed friendly courts. This was important for Mr. Sharif’s other mission, too; to avenge the indignity of his ouster from power, and his imprisonment and exile after being overthrown by General Musharraf. And many believe that recent reshuffling of the Punjab High Court has moved Sharif brothers closer to their goals.
Although no such tradition exists in Pakistan, it is incumbent upon those who ran the judicial campaign to make public the sources of its funding, as this was all about transparency and rule of law. This is how it is done in all civilized societies and this is how it must be done in Pakistan for the sake of creating sound judicial traditions.
It is also in the interest of justice that those judges who stand obligated to the Sharifs and his party for reinstatement should refuse to hear their cases, take any actions or cause any actions to be taken that would appear to favor them. Similarly, an arrangement should be ensured whereby lawyers, who led the intense campaign and struck close personal ties with Justice Chaudhry and other judges in the process, do not plead cases before them to avoid an impression that they are en-cashing their relationships.
If Justice Chaudhry is keen to prove to be an agent of change, then under his leadership judges will have to set personal examples of impeccable integrity and conduct. All judges, the Chief Justice included, should cease to hobnob with politicians, heads of government, diplomats, foreign government officials, and all those who must be kept at arm’s length. The practice of sitting judges conducting legal practice by proxy, with their offspring and relatives running their former law chambers and then pleading cases before them, must be disallowed. The duty of dispensation of justice cannot be done if judges do not shun such interests and actions that in any way compromise their position. Pakistan’s Supreme Judicial Council must proactively implement a strict code of conduct across the board.
It is important that Justice Cornelius be promoted as a role model for the higher judiciary and not Justice Munir or the likes of him. It is crucial that justice is not only done, but is also seen to be done.
Skeptics believe this to be a tall order. It is up to Justice Chaudhry and his colleague judges to prove them wrong. But whether or not this is done, he and the rest of the higher judiciary will remain under the microscope more than ever before.