ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed on Tuesday said that the most important attributes of judiciary and judges are independence, fearlessness and integrity and similar is the onerous and arduous task to be followed by the members of the Bar. “I did my duty and performed my functions as a judge of the Supreme Court fearlessly and to the best of my ability," the Chief Justice said while addressing the Full Court Reference, held here on the occasion of his retirement.
The Full Court was also addressed by Attorney General Khalid Javed, Hafeez Chaudhry, Vice Chairman Pakistan Bar Council, and Ahsen Bhoon, President Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA). The Full Court was also addressed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, the designated CJP who will take oath today (Wednesday) as the next Chief Justice of Pakistan at the Aiwan-e-Sadr. The Chief Justice-designate, Justice Umer Ata Bandial, while addressing on the occasion, noted with grave concern that members of the social media scandalise judges rather than focusing on the criticism of their judgments. Such conduct is unprofessional and uncivilized, quite apart from being unconstitutional, Justice Bandial added and asked Ahsen Bhoon, President Supreme Court Bar Association, to extend help before they act in the matter.
Justice Bandial said that differences in our opinions in matters of law arise from our individual perceptions adding that this diversity brings richness to our understanding. “Yesterday’s minority view may become tomorrow’s majority judgment but we are surprised that some observers who discharge a noble duty as watchful media, particularly members of the social media, take it upon themselves to scandalise judges rather than focusing on the criticism of their judgments," Justice Bandial said.
The outgoing Chief Justice Pakistan, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, said that history was made by appointment of the first female justice in the Supreme Court by appointment of Justice Ayesha A Malik. He said that the process of appointments in District Judiciary was expedited and he was informed that substantial appointments have already been made. Appointments were made on vacant positions in the High Courts and three judges were also appointed in this court.
The Chief Justice further said that the principle of separation of powers is the bedrock of our Constitutional structure adding that it provides a system of checks and balances to ensure that each Organ of State stays within the limits of its power or jurisdiction. “There must be harmony between the three state organs, and they are expected to work for achieving the goals set out in the Constitution," the outgoing CJP said. He further said that the consultation with the bar has been a continuous process and in this, issues of lawyers were addressed, so the matters relating to the Court working were amicably resolved. “I deeply appreciate all lawyers who have worked so hard in assisting the court and ensuring that dispensation of justice from the court continues unabated," the CJP said. He further said that the profession of law was not just bread and butter for him, rather, it became part of his person.
The CJP said that when he took the office of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the pandemic of Covid-19 started showing its full face where scores of people got affected by this pandemic. He, however, said that the court continued to function in that and for not a single day it was closed adding that for the benefit of lawyers and litigants, special dispensation was introduced where limitation period for filing of proceedings before this court was extended. He said that the hearing of cases was already being conducted through video-link from all branch registries of the court, i.e., from Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, and Quetta. On account of the pandemic of Covid-19, this facility of hearing via video-link from branch registries was availed more to ensure that the litigants and lawyers are saved from traveling from their stations to Islamabad. As the Chief Justice of Pakistan, I have heard and decided 4,392 cases, the CJP said adding that the judges of this court, despite all odds and risk to their health, ensured that dispensation of justice is continued and disputes of the people are resolved.
He further said that through the auspices of NJPMC, recommendations have been forwarded for increasing the strength of the Peshawar High Court by 10 judges to meet the load of work on account of the merger of 7 new districts of erstwhile FATA/PATA in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He said that the district judiciary has been made functional in these newly-merged districts of KPK. The District Legal Empowerment Committees (DLEC) for providing free legal aid was established in all the seven newly-merged districts of KPK, i.e., Kurram, Mohmand, North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Orakzai, Bajaur, and Khyber Agencies who have also been disbursed sufficient funds. Justice Gulzar Ahmed took the oath as 27th Chief Justice of Pakistan on December 21, 2019, and today was his last day in office.
Addressing on the occasion, the Chief Justice-designate Justice Umer Ata Bandial said that the court must continue to exercise its jurisdiction and perform its duties under the Constitution and the law with greater vigor. He said that all courts, including the Supreme Court, should undergo performance audits so that we can identify and remedy our weaknesses adding that one easily identifiable problem is the large number of frivolous disputes that clutter the Court system.
He said that there is great room for the resolution of civil disputes through ADR. These methods in addition to hard work by judges and counsel, shall Insha’Allah reduce the backlog of cases and give hope. Most of these tasks require expert input so the court system will have to shed some of its insularity. The designated Chief Justice said that in the criminal context, failed prosecutions are the result of faulty investigations and failure to collect valuable evidentiary material adding that better training and improved coordination of investigation and prosecuting authorities will enable them to bring successful prosecutions to the courts. “As these functions are integral to the justice system, the courts must participate in promoting these measures," Justice Bandial said
He said that the bar must lend its support for adding capacity to the court for the elevation of Hon’ble Judges to the Supreme Court whose seniority, honesty, competency, judicial temperament are accompanied by the diversity of experience suited to the nature of work that needs disposal. He further said that it is in this respect that Justice Gulzar Ahmed has perhaps made his most significant contribution to the court by nominating independent judges on the foregoing criteria that are derived from judicial precedents. “Last week he swore into office the first female Judge of this Court Mrs. Justice Ayesha A. Malik," Justice Bandial said. He said that the credit for achieving this historic milestone certainly goes to the Judicial Commission and Parliamentary Committee but the resolve of Justice Gulzar to extend scrutiny on the same standards of selection to bring women on the court deserves appreciation.
The designated Chief Justice said that when required, our original jurisdiction must remain available for promoting fair and expeditious dispute resolution. In this regard, it may be observed that Pakistan is a developing country and suffers from a mushrooming population which in turn has left it vulnerable to social and economic pressures that are typically faced by similarly situated countries. “These include poor health and education facilities, low productivity, unskilled labour, unemployment and therefore poverty," Justice Bandial said adding that to tackle the myriad problems facing Pakistan, all concerned stakeholders need to come together to address the core issue, namely, the alarming rate of population growth
The designated Chief Justice also lauded what he called the landmark judgments delivered by Justice Gulzar Ahmed including the Presidential Reference No.1 of 2020 framed under Article 186 of the Constitution, asking whether the elections for the members of Senate of Pakistan held under the Elections Act, 2017 were governed by the condition of “secret ballot” imposed in Article 226 of the Constitution for elections held under the Constitution.
“His lordship (speaking for the majority) held that an election to the Senate is an election under the Constitution that must be held by secret ballot as provided in Article 226. However, he observed that by its obligation under Article 218(3) of the Constitution, the Election Commission of Pakistan was bound to utilise all available measures, including technology, to ensure that corrupt practices are guarded against in the conduct of elections”, Justice Bandial said. He said that this ruling has preserved the confidentiality of the Senate elections and placed them on a constitutional plane yet allowed the Election Commission to take measures to protect the integrity of the election process from corrupt practices. Similarly, he said that Justice Gulzar revived local governments in the province of Punjab that had been dissolved prematurely adding the exercise of executive powers and functions devolved to local governments which are a lifeline for the marginalised segments of Pakistan who cannot otherwise participate in the mainstream political process.
Attorney General Khalid Javed while paying rich tributes to Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed said that his lordship leaves a legacy marked by integrity, impartiality, and independence. “The story of Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed’s life would not be complete without reference to the events of November 2007, when PCO was promulgated to destroy constitutional governance and rule of law in the country”, the AG said
With the passage of time, Attorney General said that the gravity of events occurring that day may have dimmed in our national memory and some of the central figures in that drama failed to absorb the grandeur which time had lavished on them, yet if rule of law is to be preserved in our society, we must keep those memories alive for generations to come.
“Neither the perpetrator nor the victims had imagined that this constitutional subversion would not only be reversed but the perpetrator would be in the dock and on the run," Khalid Javed said adding that yet this happened because there were many people of sterling character both on the Bench and the Bar who refused to surrender to raw force. While many of those great judges have since retired, some still adorn the bench. These he said include Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, the Chief Justice designate Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Maqbool Baqar, and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah. This would forever remain their finest hour. "The moral of the unprecedented events of 2007 is that this Court could not be damaged or destroyed by outside forces no matter how powerful or ruthless they are if the Court stood united in defence of its independence”, AG said adding that that is one lesson which must never be forgotten.
The robust approach adopted by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed for the protection of the rights of minorities would be remembered and cherished and deserves to be emulated by his successors. Such occasions also call for collective introspection. This Court is the ultimate custodian of the rights of the people. It is heartening to see that Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed is handing over leadership of this Court to Justice Umar Ata Bandial who, like his predecessor, personifies grace and dignity and is determined to address the menace of pendency, he said.
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