An Open Letter to Chief Justice of Pakistan

By: Saad Rasool      Published: 09:59 PM, 5 Jun, 2020
An Open Letter to Chief Justice of Pakistan
Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed.–File photo

Your Lordship:

I have been advised against writing this letter.  People wiser than me have pointed out that writing this letter will be, at worst contempt, and at best an exercise in futility.

Be that as it may, Sir, I am writing this letter in fulfillment of a promise.  A promise made to a young man whose mother was forcefully taken off the life-saving equipment, at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) in Lahore, and then shoved down a staircase by the black-coat thugs on Wednesday.  That young man, whose mother is not likely to survive this trauma, had a message for the ‘pater familias’ of our legal community. You, Sir.  And the message was simple: “Thank you”. 

He wanted me to convey his gratitude, to you, for not taking suo moto cognizance of this matter, and for not interfering in the independent functioning of the Bar.  He wanted to thank you for being steadfast in your resolve to not exercise powers under Article 184(3).  He told me that he understood that his mother’s health and life were immaterial in the face of this higher ideal of judicial restraint that you now champion.  He bemoaned about the time of your predecessor in office, and lamented about how the former CJP would abuse his constitutional powers to unnecessarily safeguard the meek and weary of our land.  It is not good for the system, he reminded me. 

More importantly, Your Lordship, he understood why the lawyers’ attack on PIC, and the resulting death toll, was not an issue of “public importance” with regards to “enforcement of Fundamental Rights”.  Such issues never are.  After all, in a country of 200 million people, what real consequence is the death of a few patients? (Unless, of course, the patient is a political leader, but that’s a story for another time).  Or, for that matter, what can be the significance of the police murder of two little girls, along with their father, in Sahiwal, whose culprits have all gone scot-free.  Such menial events are not the sort of things that should jolt our judicial conscience.  Nothing should.

In fact, if your Lordship could do us all a favor, it would be best to simply strike down Article 184(3) from the Constitution.  Since our judiciary has the power to do so – post 21st Amendment judgment.  Or perhaps add a proviso to it, clarifying that it will only be used for ‘special people’, in ‘special cases’ – like settling a turf-war in the case concerning the Army Chief’s extension.

Back to the issue at hand. Your Lordship, the insolent few, who dare to speak in opposition of your actions, are misguided and imprudent.  They remind me of that verse from Jalib, “Yeh jo [20] crore hain, Jahl ka nichore hain”.  You should pay no need to them.  They do not understand the consistency of purpose in your actions.  They fail to recognize that you have always restrained yourself from interfering in the functioning of the Bar.  Because reform of the Bar, or holding members of the Bar accountable for their actions, is not part of the legal reform agenda that you embody.  After all, lawyers are of not much consequence in our judicial system.  It really is between the litigants and the judges.  Besides, lawyers are a haughty bunch.  And the best approach is to ignore them – and to let the local doctors, or police, or media, or citizenry deal with their shenanigans.

It is because of this purposeful approach, that you did not take cognizance of any legal (mis)conduct, throughout your tenure as the Chief Justice.  Like the time when some lawyers attacked the district judge in Jaranwala, on 25th April, 2019, and split open his head during court proceedings.  Or on 23rd July, 2019, when a group of lawyers beat up a few reporters, in Faisalabad, for not agreeing to run their footage in the local news.  Or on 10th September, 2019, when a female lawyer in Ferozewala slapped a police officer, who had asked her to not park her car in an illegal spot.  Or on 18th October, 2019, in Tobah Tek Singh, when some lawyers gathered in a hospital and made its staff rub their noses on the ground.  Or on 30th October, 2019, in Shakargarh, when some lawyers ruthlessly beat up a female litigant inside of court premises.  Or on 6th of November, 2019, when a group of lawyers beat up hapless citizens outside the district courts in Islamabad.  Not to mention the Sher Zaman case (of Multan), which has never seen the light of day before the honorable Supreme Court.  You have never believed in interfering with matters concerning the legal community.  After all, Your Lordship, this community (and its street power) forms the very backbone of judicial strength.  Besides, as I was reminded by the young man of PIC, judicial restraint is good for the system.

Also, Your Lordship, you should remind the boorish dissenters that this is not an issue of challenging the ‘powerful’.  Such ‘taanas’ cannot be given to the judiciary.  Not after 2009.  Certainly not under your leadership.  It is not that the lawyers are too ‘powerful’ for the bench to take them on.  No.  It is just that the Chief Justice should not be called to interfere in such matters.  Bar’s current leadership should sort this out by itself.  And if they cannot, then perhaps former leaders of the bar who participated in such hooliganism in the past – and have since been elevated and confirmed to the bench by you – should reach out to their lawyer friends to find some solution.  Either way, you cannot be expected to interfere in such matters.  You have far more important issues to tackle.  Like reforming the district judiciary and its trial court structure.

Speaking of which, Your Lordship, I am unable to comprehend why some fools insist that the district court structure cannot be fixed till such time that the Bar is first reformed.  What a ridiculous thought!  They do not see that your tireless efforts will fix our domestic court structure, and provide meaningful justice to the litigants, even if the lawyers all remain on strike every day.  That the district judges will work freely, driven by the passion of your words, even if that entails facing daily harassment at the hands of the lawyers.  That the litigants will sing praises about our courts, in fulfillment of your dreams, even as the lawyers manhandle a few of them each day.  That the society at large will dance in the streets, celebrating your success in the project of justice, even as they bear the brunt of stone-pelting by the protesting lawyers.

In all, Your Lordship, please accept this letter as a salute to your restraint and wisdom.  In the confidence that you were correct, a few weeks back, when you observed that it is not the judiciary’s responsibility to do “justice” among people; it is the judiciary’s job to decide cases in accordance with law.  And there is no law that requires you to interfere in the functioning of the Bar.

However, Your Lordship, there will be a final Court, beyond the veil, where “justice” will be done.  Regardless of the law.  And in that Court, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, ‘first’ among equal brethren, may find himself ‘first’ among those accused of silently watching while such travesties continue to be perpetrated within his grasp.

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has an LL.M. in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at: saad@post.harvard.edu, or Twitter: @SaadRasooll