Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is creating a great deal of nervousness in Islamabad as a result of his erratic and often inexplicable behaviour, which has begun to skirt the limits of his constitutional powers. With his latest actions including threatening people and abusing lawyers before the court, some are starting to ask if the Chief Justice is out of control.
The Chief Justice appears to have taken a hostile attitude towards the democratically elected government, with some saying that Iftikhar Chaudhry is acting out a revenge scenario against President Zardari for not reinstating him quickly enough after the CJ was dismissed by Gen. Musharraf.
The president and the chief justice have a tense personal relationship, and the court’s efforts to reopen thousands of corruption cases against politicians, bureaucrats and party workers dating back to the 1990s has exacerbated it. The court revoked an amnesty protecting the defendants in December, setting off the current conflict.
Zardari’s strained relationship with the judiciary stems from his delay in reinstating the chief justice, who had been dismissed by Musharraf — a move that only heightened public anger against the former general and energized protests against his rule.
Zardari promised to return Chaudhry to office once in power, but resisted for six months until he was forced to act by opposition-led protests.
Now the court is trying to fast-track the re-opening of cases against President Zardari to drag him back into court. Raja Amir Abbas, deputy prosecutor general of the NAB, has said that a letter to the Swiss authorities will be written by tomorrow asking to re-open corruption cases against Zardari there, even though the chief prosecutor in Geneva, Daniel Zappelli, has said that he has no evidence to bring Zardari to trial.
International legal analysts are calling the Chief Justice’s actions a “Judicial Coup.” Consider the following analysis by esteemed former members of the American Department of Justice, David B. Rivkin and Lee A. Casey:
Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, the country’s erstwhile hero, is the leading culprit in an unfolding constitutional drama. It was Mr. Chaudhry’s dismissal by then-President Pervez Musharraf in 2007 that triggered street protests by lawyers and judges under the twin banners of democracy and judicial independence. This effort eventually led to Mr. Musharraf’s resignation in 2008. Yet it is now Mr. Chaudhry himself who is violating those principles, having evidently embarked on a campaign to undermine and perhaps even oust President Asif Ali Zardari.
CJ Iftikhar’s apparent vendetta is particularly troubling because it seems that he is showing blatant disregard for the constitution in the process. Article 248 of the constitution clearly states that criminal proceedings cannot be instituted against an individual while he is servings as President.
248. Protection to President, Governor, Minister, etc.
(1) The President, a Governor, the Prime Minister, a Federal Minister, a Minister of State, the Chief Minister and a Provincial Minister shall not he answerable to any court for the exercise of powers and performance of functions of their respective offices or for any act done or purported to be done in the exercise of those powers and performance of those functions:
Provided that nothing in this clause shall be construed as restricting the right of any person to bring appropriate proceedings against the Federation or a Province.
(2) No criminal proceedings whatsoever shall be instituted or continued against the President or a Governor in any court during his term of office.
(3) No process for the arrest or imprisonment of the President or a Governor shall issue from any court during his term of office.
(4) No civil proceedings in which relief is claimed against the President or a Governor shall be instituted during his term of office in respect of anything done by or not done by him in his personal capacity whether before or after he enters upon his office unless, at least sixty days before the proceedings are instituted, notice in writing has been delivered to him, or sent to him in the manner prescribed by law, stating the nature of the proceedings, the cause of action, the name, description and place of residence of the party by whom the proceedings are to be instituted and the relief which the party claims.
This is more than just an academic problem. Article 248 ensures that the nation can continue operating and that the government can continue to function. If Zardari is guilty of some crime, it will not be unreasonable to bring the case when his term ends in a few years. After all, these charges originated over a decade ago. Why the sudden hurry?
But this isn’t the only troubling aspect of the Chief Justice’s behaviour. The Chief Justice has lately started acting irrationally and yelling at everyone in sight.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has screamed at the NAB Chairman Naveed Ahsan and threatened to throw him in jail. Upon hearing the case against Deputy General of the Federal Investigation Agency Riaz Sheikh, CJ Iftikhar ordered the accused jailed before his conviction and scolded his attorney for representing his case. How can there be any justice if accused are jailed before they are found guilty, and if their attorneys are abused and intimidated by the court?
The Chief Justice has gone out of control and is threatening not only reputation of his own office, but the stability of the nation. This is not justice, it is a farce.