PAKISTAN: Detention of Chief Justice shows utter disrespect for independence of judiciary

Shocking details are emerging about the manner in which the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudry, was requested to resign from his post, and how when he refused he was physically restrained form leaving the President’s Camp Office for several hours and finally as to how a reference was cooked up and filed in order to prevent him from sitting as the chief judicial officer of Pakistan.  All this is now being revealed in a 40 page petition filed by the Chief Justice himself through his counsel before the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

The ongoing judicial crisis in Pakistan has taken a new twist with the revelation that Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudry was physically restrained from leaving the President’s Camp Office at Rawalpindi until 5:00 p.m. on the day that he was made non-functional.

It is now alleged in his testimony before the Supreme Court that he was actually taken into custody on March 9, 2007 as he had refused to tender his resignation as Chief Justice of Pakistan.

According to his testimony he was summoned to attend the President’s Camp Office and upon his arrival was ordered to resign by the ‘referring authority’ who was in fact the president, General Musharaff. The president, it is learned, became ‘most upset’ when Chief Justice Chaudry refused to comply. He was then allegedly detained against his will for a period of five hours in an attempt to force his hand.

The non-functional Chief Justice revealed in a 40 page petition filed through his counsel before the Supreme Court of Pakistan that his detention was an attempt to humiliate both him and the office he rightfully held, and threaten him because he, in his capacity as Chief Justice was attempting to assert the relief owed to the common man by the constitutional authority invested in him by his office.

The manner in which the military regime has tried to persuade the Chief Justice to resign, the physical restrain exercised against him for five hours in not allowing him to leave and the subsequent reference would all amount to criminal activities if these things had happened in any democracy. The executive does not have any power to request the chief of the judicial branch, or for that matter any member of the judicial branch to resign. To use such power violates the concept of the independence of the judiciary in a most fundamental manner. While the judiciary has the right after judicial examination to force a government or the chief executive out of power the executive, on the other hand does not have similar power over the judiciary. All that the executive can do, even when there are extraordinary grounds for the removal of a chief justice or a judge of the Supreme Court, is to follow the procedure of the law and to leave the matter in the hands of the courts themselves. To call the Chief Justice in order to persuade him to resign itself is an act that the executive should be held responsible for. Without the slightest doubt it can be said that this act in itself would constitute contempt of court in the clearest terms. Suppose the prime minister of England or the president of the United States or France were to call the chief justice of the country to their office and make and suggest that he should resign, would that in any way have any other meaning than a clear affront, not only to the individual concerned, but to the institution of the judiciary itself. What if the judicial officer is further restrained form leaving the executive’s office for five hours or for that matter even a few minutes. Clearly any such act in any of the countries mentioned above would lead to an outcry demanding the immediate resignation of the executive who engaged in such an act.

All this clearly indicates the distance between any active democracy and Pakistan is the same as that of night and day.

Under these circumstances the actions of lawyers and others who have called for the reinstatement of the chief justice and the resignation of general Musharaff seem not only legitimate but in fact the only appropriate action that should take place within a society that has any respect for the independence of the judiciary. The international community owes a great obligation to support the people of Pakistan who are now facing the final threat to their judicial institution.

The following words from the chief justice’s petition demand careful consideration from all persons who support the independence of the judiciary, democracy and human rights:

“And this country has indeed seen many a whimsical and arbitrary military head turning in wrath towards independent judges and seeking to subordinate and overawe the judiciary, sometimes to turn around the course of pending proceedings or impending judgements.

The entire edifice of the independence of the judiciary would crumble like a house of cards, if contrary view is taken, as any judge about to deliver a judgement against the executive, will run the jeopardy of being effectively and summarily sent home. This has indeed happened in the past in this country in times when the constitution stood abrogated or had been suspended or held in abeyance.

If contrary view is taken which judge will then stand up to the executive?”

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-088-2007
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Administration of justice,