More Controversy and Polarization in Judiciary

We noted yesterday that the leaders of the lawyer’s movement are opposing the strike proposed by Qazi Mohammad Anwar. Today’s editorial in Dawn takes the would-be strikers to task for intellectual dishonesty and playing politics with the judiciary.

It is nothing short of peculiar: a section of the lawyers’ community has called for a countrywide boycott of the courts on Jan 28 to protest the ‘anti-judiciary’ moves of a ‘civilian dictator’. The crux of these lawyers’ complaint against the government/President Zardari is: one, that the NRO judgment has not been ‘implemented’; and two, that the government is ‘interfering’ in judicial appointments by disagreeing with Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s recommendations. But on neither count is there a consensus even within the legal community.

There has been no ‘violation’ of the NRO judgment as yet, according to some very eminent jurists; indeed, from the prime minister downwards, government officials have all pledged to implement the NRO judgment. Some may have reservations about the government’s ‘true intentions’ but the law doesn’t deal with hypotheticals — if/when the government is in violation of the NRO, then can it be accused of ‘undermining the rule of law’.

Second, as yet the disagreements between the judiciary and the presidency over judicial appointments have not risen to the level of illegalities. As it stands, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has made some recommendations, the president has declined to make the appointments and given his reason for doing so and that’s it. No side has violated the constitution and if anything, the executive is on the right side of the law as interpreted historically by the judiciary itself.

Given these facts, a court boycott cannot be justified, and raises the suspicion that politics may be involved. The lawyers’ movement was born of a desire to save the polity and the constitution from the depredations of a military dictator. To now invoke that spirit in a fight against a constitutionally elected president who is part of a system of electorally legitimate assemblies is bad enough. To do so on grounds that are weak and based on suspicions about what the presidency or the government may or may not do in the future is to destroy the very spirit of that movement.

While we did not always agree with the tactics of the lawyers’ movement in the fight to restore the judiciary, we admired the spirit. But the legacy of the lawyers’ movement is being threatened by those who appear to want to go beyond strengthening the judiciary and become arbiters of the country’s political future. We are, therefore, gratified that other sections of the lawyers’ community are already pushing back. For sure, to achieve true judicial independence, the executive will have to be battled again — but not in the way and on the grounds some are arguing for at the moment.

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