EDITORIAL: Interestingly, one of the least reported, and perhaps most appreciated, acts of Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa was his refusal to accept the ceremonial guard of honour.
He clearly did his homework and seemed to know that this pomp and show was, once upon a time, the sole preserve of the head of state – governor general and then president – and was not accorded even to the head of government.
This trend changed only when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto ascended to prominence as civil martial law administrator, president and later prime minister. And since then, hollow self-glorification of this sort has become part and parcel of change-of-guard ceremonies at the top of all the leading pillars of state.
Hopefully, the new chief justice’s rejection of such pageantry will set a new precedent, as will his no-nonsense approach as he went straight to work, convened a full court for his first hearing – something that was all but written off by his predecessor – and, in another first, ordered cameras to be rolled in to give all Pakistanis a ringside view of proceedings in the highest court in their land.
That enabled them to hear, among other things, the rarest of confessions from a sitting chief justice; that mistakes made in the past should, rather must, be admitted, and that it is the constitution, not past judgements, that he took an oath to uphold.
Naturally, everybody is waiting to see how the judiciary under his watch leans on matters like holding the general election within the mandatory 90-day period and civilians’ trials in military courts, to name just two pressing issues. No doubt, settling these questions should take priority at the moment.
But his legacy as well as his service to the judiciary and the nation will be judged more by his intentions and actions to deal with the huge backlog of cases than the speed with which he approaches politically sensitive issues, especially those that have been dragged far enough to also involve some people’s fundamental rights.
Undoubtedly, he comes to the job well prepared so he knows that the 50,000-plus cases pending at the Supreme Court alone – and something like 2.2 million cases overall – are the biggest, though by no means the only, reason for the public’s loss of confidence in the justice system.
Some of his more colourful, and outright controversial predecessors tried to implement cosmetic changes, but with zero effect.
And since the cases have been piling up all this time, CJ Isa has taken oath at a time when they have ballooned to the point that it will take a substantial effort by himself and his colleagues in robes to make even a minute difference. And he’ll have to do a lot more than that for his contribution to even begin to matter in the long stretch of things.
There’s also very little to suggest that the country’s politicians will shed their habit of entangling themselves in constitutional disputes and then running to the Supreme Court for answers. This fact alone, especially the Bandial court’s reputation for controversial benches and decisions, will make the spotlight shine that much more brightly on him in his early weeks and months in office. So far, despite impressive headlines lauding his early initiatives, it’s too soon to form an opinion of the judiciary under his watch.
He’s only started to get comfortable in his new seat, after all, and there’s no shortage of daunting challenges confronting him. He should be congratulated for hitting the ground running – which is what his position and the turbulent times demand – and also constantly reminded that nothing less is expected of him for the entire duration of his time as chief justice of Pakistan.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023