PAKISTAN: The Judicial Commission must probe the allegations against the Chief Justice and his son for the misuse of his office
The parliamentarians and leaders of the lawyer's movement, which restored the judiciary, have come out with the strong criticism against the Supreme Court and particularly against the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr. Justice Iftekhar Choudry. They are concerned that he has overstepped the domain of the Constitution and is acting too independently. Besides this, the members of the ruling parties are also accusing that the Supreme Court, particularly the Chief Justice is undermining the supremacy of the parliament and sometimes ridicules the mandate holders of the public.
The most disturbing debate in the print and electronic media is about the corruption charges against Arsalan Iftekhar (32), Choudry's son who allegedly took bribes in the shape of luxury flats in London, hotel accommodation in Park Lane and to enjoy gambling in Monte Carlo from a property developer to provide relaxation in cases through his father. During the open discussion in the media it is also alleged that the Chief Justice is using his influence to stop any inquiry against his son. Due to his position as Chief Justice the judiciary is trying to appease him and protect Mr. Arsalan asserting that the demand for an inquiry against him is an attack on the judiciary.
In the effort to resist the attack on the judiciary via Mr. Arsalan's corruption charges, the Supreme Court's divisional bench has stopped the inquiry against him through a stay order just to show solidarity with the Chief Justice who is not happy with the media's freedom. In a recent petition against the obscenity based programs in the media he tried to impose a kind of censorship for "guided freedom" to keep the Islamic identity of the country. For this purpose the CJ has squeezed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to follow strict rules on the media.
During the media discussions the members from the ruling party have also come out with the documentary evidence that the son of the CJ is using the official residence of the Chief Justice as the business address for the bank accounts of his company and has transacted millions of Rupees through these accounts. The parliamentarians are claiming that the CJ is fully aware of the business being transacted through his official residence and is therefore, equally responsible for the corruption of his son.
Mr. Riaz Malik, the property dealer, has submitted a statement before the court that he has showered gifts and cash in excess of 2 million pounds sterling on Arsalan Iftikhar Chaudhry. He submitted that everything spent during three all-expenses-paid trips to London by Arsalan Iftikhar and other unnamed members of the family of the Chief Justice, could be shown in the form of receipts, airline tickets and tenancy agreements.
On the first trip, in the summer of 2010, a three-bedroom flat was rented in Portman Square for a month for £40,000, and a luxury Range Rover was hired for transport around town.
The party made a four-day side-trip to Monte Carlo where Iftikhar gambled in the casino of the Hotel de Paris, losing his wealthy benefactor €10,000 (£8,800) (Rs. 1.2 million) in cash.
Trips the following year included stays at a luxury hotel and a flat off Park Lane costing £4,000 a week. Malik Riaz included copies of Arsalan's passport, cheques, wire transfers, bank statements and tenancy agreements with his statement to back up his claims. He (Malik Riaz) said his son-in-law had paid all expenses for three trips made to London by Mr. Arsalan during 2010-11 and one visit to Monte Carlo in 2010. Arsalan was accompanied by an unidentified woman and a man during his trip to Monte Carlo, and the equivalent of Rs. 1.2 million was paid in cash for losses incurred by Mr. Arsalan while gambling, the statement said.
In a news conference Malik Riaz raised various questions on the transparency of the case and made claims that he met with Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in the presence of his son, Arsalan Iftikhar. "He said that the Chief Justice knew about the business dealings and should have taken suo moto action before the media broke this news"
In addition to the accusation of corruption and open support to his son there is also serious debate on the biased performance of the Superior Court and the judges for exceeding their constitutional powers and allowing themselves to become involved in the political decisions.
The former President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Asma Jahangir has said if the judiciary continues to nourish political thinking it will lead to unrecoverable loss. Talking to the media outside parliament, Asma Jahangir said when the courts do not give ruling in accordance with the constitution and show political bias, the common man loses confidence in the courts. She said the Supreme Court should see Arsalan Iftikhar and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf with the same eye of justice. She said justice should be practised but the court should also follow some code of conduct. She alleged the quickness in National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) case is part of a plan, which will cause a serious damage to the country and democracy. She said she does not support the new contempt of court law, as many of its sections are against the spirit of the constitution but restrictions cannot be imposed on the parliament taking away its right of legislation. She vowed she would never surrender if the judiciary forbids her from giving statements.
Senator and renowned legal expert Aitzaz Ahsan has said that the judiciary was stepping out of the domain of the constitution in some matters and was getting too independent. While being interviewed by BBC Urdu, the former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) said that the activism of the apex court was one-sided and not equal for all aspects. He observed, "The stance taken by the Chief Justice in a speech that the judiciary can stop the Parliament from a Constitutional amendment clashes with the Supreme Court's own decisions".
He said that the Supreme Court could only review the amendments made through simple majority for any discrepancy within existing articles of the constitution. "However, amendments passed with a two-third majority cannot be challenged in the court", he asserted. Commenting on the controversial Arsalan Iftikhar case, Aitzaz Ahsan was of the opinion that the proceedings against the CJ's son had raised questions about the impartiality of the court. "The present judiciary is diverting from the prevailing principles of investigation into Arsalan's alleged dealings with Malik Riaz Hussain", he added.
Under these circumstances of the accusation and the campaign of maligning the judiciary the Judicial Commission must take these accusations seriously which highlight unconstitutional methods being used by the highest judicial offices. Any failure to do so could well undermine the peoples' confidence in the judiciary which was restored by the very people that look to it for fairness and transparency. Demoralisation is a short step away if it is seen that the judiciary has one rule for its own and another for the people. This situation will be used by supra-constitutional forces if it is thought that the judiciary is corrupt and steeped in nepotism. It will be the excuse needed for another military takeover in the name of protecting the people of the country.
The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the Judicial Commission to act decisively and quickly to stop the blame game between the different institutions of the state. Full confidence must be restored in the judiciary and the matter concerning the son of the Chief Justice must be dealt with in a transparent and unbiased manner. This must be done to stop the growing impression that the judiciary is exceeding its mandate and stepping into the domain of the other pillars of the state. The country is undergoing a period of great stress and demoralisation. The Judicial Commission must act to bring back equilibrium to the judiciary and the country as a whole.