Judiciary Is Not A Personal Fiefdom

Judiciary Is Not A Personal Fiefdom The purpose of the constitutional reforms put forth by President Zardari is to undo the consolidation of power and the creation of feudal ‘fiefdoms’ within the government, specifically within the office of President. Nawaz Sharif’s idea for the judicial commission, however, is a step backwards as it would turn the judiciary into the personal fiefdom of the Chief Justice.

Dawn’s editorial today explains:

The problem that will be created by a judicial commission with a majority formed by serving judges of the SC and a handpicked choice of the CJP is not very difficult to identify. The superior judiciary is designed such that while every justice on a court has one vote, the chief justices are administratively the ‘bosses’. So it is very unlikely that in the presence of a Chief Justice of Pakistan who wants a particular nominee, the other justices on the commission would disagree with him. Also unlikely is the possibility that a handpicked seventh member of the judicial commission will oppose the CJP’s choice. And even if the CJP is an accommodating sort and encourages developing a consensus nominee among the judges and his handpicked seventh member, it would mean that the superior judiciary would determine by itself — because of the simple majority it would enjoy on the judicial commission — who can or cannot become a judge of a high court or the Supreme Court.

A hermetically sealed judicial institution of that sort is antithetical to the principles of democracy. Why should the present membership of a state institution determine what its future membership will be? Remember that judges are free to vote with their conscience once sworn in because it is virtually impossible to remove them before they retire (which is how it should be). What Pakistan needs is a judiciary free from interference, not a judiciary that is independent in the sense of deciding its own membership. Any proposal by Mr Sharif or anyone else that would effectively give the superior judiciary a majority on the judicial commission must not be accepted.

The purpose of constitutional reforms – and of the democratic process as a whole – is to distribute powers across the government offices so that no one person retains an authority that exceeds the others. There must be ‘checks and balances’ to ensure that the government is doing the work of the people and not acting as a personal fiefdom of one office.

An independent judiciary is one that is free from interference from other branches of government, not the personal fiefdom of the Chief Justice, whoever he may be. Actually, just as the judiciary should be free from influence by the President and Prime Minister, so should the selection of justices be free from the prejudices of any one man – including the Chief Justice.

It is time for Pakistan to move beyond this feudal way of dividing authority. The government should implement the constitutional reforms package as it was previously agreed.

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