4 immediate steps CJ Khosa needs to take to restore credibility of judiciary
Put an end to judicial activism
Hyper judicial activism/populism is one of the aspects of his tenure for which former chief justice Saqib Nisar will be remembered. The former chief justice went on to get involved in executive affairs, for instance, by issuing orders during his official visits to hospitals and jails, and also often issued political statements. He set a wrong precedent by intervening in executive matters which do not fall under his jurisdiction. This led to an impression that the courts were biased and too opinionated in their approach, which resultantly affected the credibility of the judiciary. The ongoing ‘accountability drive’ which mainly targeted the Sharif family was termed by some as a witch-hunt. A comparatively lenient attitude was adopted towards some members of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) who were accused of similar misdoings, which further strengthened the belief about the courts being unfair. Therefore, it is imperative that Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa refrains from engaging in judicial activism. It would help improve the credibility of the judiciary.
In his first address after being designated as CJ, Justice Khosa said he would use his suo motu powers ‘sparingly’, which is a rather positive statement. Let’s hope he walks the talk. It goes without saying that judges speak through their judgements and not populist remarks that end up becoming headlines.
Furthermore, judicial activism can often pose a threat to democracy, which is the last thing Pakistan needs. CJ Khosa should use his powers as the top judge to change course in this regard.
Clear the backlog of pending cases
In his address, CJ Khosa also expressed his desire to resolve the longstanding issues of pending cases and false testimonies. Judiciary under Saqib Nisar was not able to address and clear the backlog in civil cases despite his acknowledgement of the issue. Even cases that merit urgent attention keep lingering on for years. Justice delayed, as they say, is justice denied.
Lack of adequate defence counsel for the weaker and underprivileged segments is also a cause of concern. There have been several instances of miscarriage of justice because the justice system lacks the capacity to ensure fair trials. In a number of cases in the recent past, individuals held in criminal cases for years were later proven not guilty. Resolving this issue and strengthening the access to justice should be CJ Asif Khosa’s top priority. This step is needed not only to restore the credibility of the judiciary, but also because access to justice is a human right as enshrined in the constitution.
Stop the ‘dam fund’ absurdity
The ‘dam fund’ mantra advocated by the former chief justice and projected by the mainstream media through advertisements worth billions over the past few months is nothing short of absurd. It has been said time again by experts that the amount needed to build the Diamer Bhasha and Mohmand dams cannot be collected through donations. During the former CJ’s tenure, people were made to donate for the dam fund and these donations were often involuntary. Salaries of government officials were deducted for the dam fund, and children were asked by schools to donate for the purpose. Not only is this ‘dam fund’ rhetoric factually flawed, but the chief justice’s involvement in such matters is tantamount to judicial overreach. CJ Khosa needs to do the right thing and abolish the dam fund.
Resolve the missing persons issue
Enforced disappearance is another issue which remained unresolved by the judiciary over the years. There has been an increase in rate of enforced disappearances of late and the practice has expanded to target dissenting voices across the country. A significant number of those who went missing were human rights defenders and activists. Former chief justice Saqib Nisar did hear a case filed by the families of missing persons of Sindh, but he gave a clean chit to the intelligence agencies which are accused of having a role in these abductions.
Earlier, former CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry also heard similar cases filed against the abduction of the missing persons of Balochistan, but the practice could not be brought to an end. CJ Khosa needs to look into the matter because the use of brute force by state institutions is giving rise to resentment among ethnic minorities, who are mostly on the receiving end. Enforced disappearances are also a violation of the constitution, and it is about time the judiciary paid heed to the families of the victims that have long been seeking an end their ordeal.