Limits of Judicial Authority Defined

Justice iftikhar Chaudhry with Military

Whether the Judiciary has been hyper-activist, there is no doubt that it has been hyper-active since the return of democracy. From ruling on the price of sugar to throwing out democratically elected Prime Ministers, it seemed there was no limit to the reach of judicial authority. Since the past few weeks, though, the limits to judicial authority have finally been discovered.

The first case to outline the limits of judicial authority involved a familiar legal issue: contempt. But unlike previous contempt cases, the most recent one included an important difference – the accused was none other than Hazrat Imran Khan.

If you remember, the SC issued a contempt notice against Hazrat Imran (RA) for using the term ‘sharamnaak’ in reference to the Court over his allegations of election rigging. This was when ‘sharamnaak’ still meant ‘shameful’, or so we all thought at the time. Hazrat Imran (RA) refused to apologise, instead telling the Court that ‘sharamnaak’ no longer means ‘shameful’ and therefore he cannot be guilty. Naturally, the Supreme Court immediately dropped the case. Thus an important legal precedent was set: If you are going to abuse the Court, be sure to be Imran Khan when you are doing so.

The second case limiting the reach of judicial authority was handed down only yesterday. This case involves a 2009 petition brought before the Lahore High Court requesting that the military defend the nation against drone attacks and that America be declared as Pakistan’s enemy. LHC rejected the petition, and yesterday the Supreme Court upheld the dismissal saying that matters of military, national security, and foreign policy are beyond the reach of the judiciary.

“Any such interference by the courts would be violative of one of the foundational principles of the constitution which envisages a trichotomy of powers between the legislature, executive and the judiciary,” said Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, who was presiding over a two-judge bench that included Justice Amir Hani Muslim.

For those who have argued that the judiciary is out of control and recognises no boundaries to its authority, the lines have now been established. There are are clear boundaries beyond which the judiciary is restrained from deciding and these are cases involving Hazrat Imran Khan (RA) and the military.


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