Sad State of Pakistan’s lower judiciary

The recent Judge Arshad Malik saga that is playing out in the media, social media and parliament reflects the utterly sad state of Pakistan’s lower judiciary. In 2018 Judge Malik convicted former PM Nawaz Sharif in the Al Azizia case and was accused by the PML-N of “delivering the verdict under pressure.” In support of this argument, Maryam Nawaz Sharif released videos to prove her claims. The judge, however, denied acting under pressure, and made counter allegations that Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N were seeking to bribe him. Las week the Islamabad High Court (IHC) removed the accountability court judge and then Law Ministry temporarily barred him from working.

According to veteran journalist Zahid Hussain, “The Judge Arshad Malik saga is a tragicomedy. His affidavit submitted in the Islamabad High Court is being seen as a testimony of his compromised character. It also exposes the sad state of our lower judiciary and its apparent vulnerability to manipulation. In his statement, the judge confesses to being blackmailed and claims that the Sharif family tried to bribe him. But in a purported video conversation, he reportedly talks about convicting the former prime minister under duress. While the credibility of the video has yet to be established, Judge Malik did not deny talking to the persons in the video. The whole episode is scandalous. The judge may have been removed from the accountability court but no disciplinary action has been taken against him as yet.”

Further, Hussain notes, “it is not just a legal matter; the scandal has become an explosive political issue with both the opposition and the government trying to use the controversy against each other and engaging in a toxic blame game. The incident has brought into question the entire accountability process, given the alleged susceptibility of judges to pressure from state elements and from the rich and powerful. True, it’s not the first such case in our judicial history, but there is greater notoriety attached to it on account of it being a politically high-profile incident. The real issue related to the credibility of the entire judicial system has been lost in the cacophony of political point-scoring. The case of Judge Malik epitomises the ugly face of our judicial system.”

Finally, “The case of Judge Arshad Malik must not be seen in isolation. Judges like him are the product of a system where the judiciary is pulled into a vicious power game that compromises its independence. A tainted judiciary would be in danger of being seen as the biggest threat to the rule of law and democracy.”

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