A Judge Speaks

Spearhead Opinion – 24.07.2018

In most people’s mind the image of a judge is that of a mature, intellectually endowed, highly educated experienced, mature and responsible person. This is because a judge is held in very high esteem, entrusted with great responsibility and his decisions are viewed with awe because of the enormous implications that they have. So when a judge speaks people listen and listen very carefully. That is why judges are sparing with their words, speak only within their domain and usually through their judgments.

So when a judge of a superior court uses a public forum to give his views on the integrity and performance of other institutions and blames his own institution for shortcomings then his allegations become very serious indeed—quite different from the chatter on the social and other media. This is the impact created by the utterances of a Judge of the Islamabad High Court during an address at a lawyers gathering where he had been invited to speak on ethics in the judicial context. The general impression is that the judge must have iron clad evidence to back up his accusations otherwise he would never have been so outspoken.

Legal minds, Bar Associations, Media anchors and analysts have shifted into high gear as they debate the consequences of the judges’ words and the timing for saying what he did. All sorts of conjectures are being drawn, conspiracy theories discussed and demands are being made ranging from a full Supreme Court bench hearing to a judicial commission or a Parliamentary commission to exhaustively probe the matter from every angle. Since his words resonate and strike a chord in one political segment therefore that segment is expressing its support—guardedly. A Senator even named names on the floor of the senate of people he alleged are interfering and influencing the elections. Other segments may support the judge for reasons other than political. All these views are being freely expressed so perhaps the media is not as muzzled as it is made out to be.

The fact that the Judges accusations tie in with a narrative of judicial-military collusion, a muzzling of the media by the State and some kind of pre-election manipulation by the military and its intelligence assets adds to the overall environment on the eve of the election. The HRCP has also weighed in with similar views just before the polls. Heavy weight journalists and prestigious media publications (including foreign ones) have published a spate of articles targeting the military for its heavy handed tactics– and the Indian media of course lapped it all up, optimized it, embellished it and exploited it to the hilt. The perception deliberately created is of blatant pre-poll intervention. The front runner in the elections, the PTI Chairman, is the one most heavily tarred with the brush of this concerted campaign. If elected his first task will be to somehow cleanse himself.

Lost in translation or perhaps deliberately ignored is the fact that the judiciary and the military as institutions have exercised enormous restraint in their responses to all the criticism being heaped upon them. They have single mindedly focused on the elections and worked within their spheres to give the nation the best possible environment for the elections and the critical period beyond the elections.  In the case of the judges remarks the military (being the target of his remarks) has asked the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to investigate the matter and take whatever action he deems appropriate. No one has criticized this response as it is well within the rights of an institution to ask for justice—especially an institution that is sacrificing lives and that is entrusted by the ECP to ensure security across the country. The Chief Justice has responded by asking NEPRA for the video of the judge’s speech as a first step and has categorically rejected the insinuation by the judge that the judiciary was being pressured to perform in a certain way. No doubt the Chief Justice will proceed further to resolve the issue.

The logical course of action is to wait and see how the judiciary as an institution acts in the matter and what kind of a precedent is set for the future—this being the first such episode. No doubt the linked issues will also be resolved depending on the evidence presented or not presented to back up the allegations made.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to an individual)