We are entering what promises to be an entertaining period in the history of the judiciary. The IHC has revoked Gen Musharraf’s bail and ordered his immediate arrest as the SC resumes treason hearings against the former dictator. This all sounds fairly straight forward, but as with so much in life, here too there is a twist.
The Supreme Court is considering charges of treason against Gen Musharraf due to his suspending the Constitution on 3rd November 2007. The question is an important one because it goes straight to the heart of whether Pakistan is a country of laws or a country of men. In other words, is the law supreme, or can a single man be considered as higher than even the Constitution itself? Do we have rule of law or not?
However important this question is, though, it is also curious in the way it is being addressed by the Court. After all, the 2007 PCO was not the only time that Gen Musharraf declared a state of emergency and suspended the Constitution. Actually, it was the second time. He did the same also in 1999 when he carried out a military coup d’etat against the democratically elected government of Nawaz Sharif.
So why is the SC only asking about the second and not the first act also? It might be because the first act received the help of some powerful people.
On 26th January 2000, all Supreme Court Justices were asked to take an Oath not under the Constitution, which was suspended, but under Musharraf’s Provisional Constitutional Order justifying his abeyance of the Constitution and swearing not to challenge his decisions as dictator. Six judges, including Chief Justice Saeeduzaman Siddiqi, refused to swear an oath to the dictator. These judges were quickly dismissed and replaced with others who were willing to allow the Constitution to be held in abeyance and the whims of a dictator to be made the supreme law.
In 2011, without a hint of irony, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry declared that “PCO judges do not have legitimacy and they could not claim themselves to be the judges of the superior courts”. Now the same Chief Justice is presiding over a Court that is considering whether suspending the Constitution itself is an act of treason.
A friend forwarded me another tale of judicial introspection, this one coming from a court in Michigan, USA. During a recent hearing, the judge accidentally poked a button on his phone causing it to start making noise. Known for strictly enforcing rules of etiquette in the courtroom by holding in contempt anyone whose phone interrupted a hearing, the judge was burning with embarrassment. But rather than threaten journalists for reporting anything that could embarrass the court, the judge did something extraordinary. He filed a Contempt of Court notice against himself!
Judge Voet, who is not only chief but the only district judge of Ionia, said he’s surprised by how much attention his story has gotten since the local Sentinel-Standard reported on it Friday. The self-flagellation was out of self-interest, he said: “It’s a small county. Your reputation is important. I wanted to make sure anyone who had a phone taken by me knew that I lived by the same rules.”
A judge who holds himself to the same rules as everyone else? How ironic.