After eight years as the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has retired at the age of 65.
As the chief justice of Balochistan High Court, he had taken oath under Gen Pervez Musharraf as soon as he took over following a coup in 1999, and later validated his Legal Framework Order of 2002. He was elevated to the Supreme Court immediately after that and appointed the chief justice in 2005.
Having fallen afoul of Musharraf in 2007, Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was asked to resign. Despite consistent and considerable pressure, he refused to do so. It was here that he rose to the challenge. He withstood the tyranny of a despotic military ruler and won the hearts of millions of Pakistanis. Musharraf tried employing the judiciary to get rid of him, failed, and was left no option but to reinstate him.
In November the same year, Pervez Musharraf declared an emergency and, among other actions, also suspended the chief justice. After taking over as president, Asif Zardari also refused to reinstate him. Although Zardari had also imposed Governor’s rule in Punjab, suspending the PML-N government, Nawaz Sharif played his cards cleverly and stuck to his one-point agenda of restoring an independent judiciary while leading a ‘Long March’ in March 2008.
Gen Kayani played a quiet role from behind the scenes and told Zardari that if a million plus (and there could well have been more) people reached the capital, and the army’s help was sought under the constitution to act ‘in aid of civil power’, he would not be in a position to assist the government. Zardari caved in and Prime Minister Gilani announced his reinstatement on March 22,2008.
By now, Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was at the height of his popularity. Following Musharraf’s emergency in November 2007, Harvard Law School had already announced Justice Chaudhry as the next recipient of the prestigious Medal of Freedom, and the National Law Journal picked him as Lawyer of the Year. The Bar Association of New York City made him an honorable member in 2008. In 2012, Chaudhry was named by Time Magazine among the 100 most influential people and was also awarded the International Jurist Award. Perhaps all this left no room for him to ascend the ladder. Perhaps that is why thereafter he could only descend.
[quote]Suo motu proceedings became the order of the day[/quote]
After his reinstatement, the chief justice became very active, and suo motu proceedings became the order of the day. The Latin phrase translates roughly to “on its own initiative”. In legal parlance, it is when the court takes notice of a blatant travesty of justice which has not been referred to it. In developed countries, it is an extremely rare occurrence under the Anglo-Saxon Law. But that was not the case in Pakistan.
In the beginning, the initiatives received a favorable response. Except for a few skeptics, everybody felt that in extraordinary times, judicial activism might well be the panacea for our ills. But in time it all began to pall. When the chief justice decided to set the price at which sugar is to be sold in the market, it began to look ridiculous.
But it was not until the chief justice decided to take suo motu notice of the corruption allegations against his son Arsalan – sending the matter to a one-man commission for investigation that promptly cleared him – that questions began to be raised.
Although the UK does not have a Supreme Court, under the Anglo-Saxon legal system which we inherited, the SC is not a trial court. It is a constitutional court and the final court of appeal. But Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was seen as assuming all roles upon himself. And he did not stop there. He even dictated how investigations were to be conducted. There was fear that any criticism of the court would be seen as contempt.
After his retirement, Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is being followed by Justice Tassaduq Jillani, and he by Justice Nasirul Mulk. Both are held in high esteem by their peers and jurists.