Monday, June 19, 2006

Fool's gold

The Supreme Court of Pakistan is celebrating 2006 as its golden jubilee year, but the court's history gives little reason to celebrate. Capitulating time and again before military interlopers and usurpers, the superior judiciary has little credibility amongst ordinary people. Restoring judicial independence is critical to the rule of law, but for obvious reasons this remains low on the government's list of priorities.

In a 2004 report on the judiciary in Pakistan, the International Crisis Group made the following recommendations for building judicial independence:

To the Government of Pakistan:

1. Establish, by proposing and urging adoption of a constitutional amendment, a transparent system of judicial appointments to the High Courts that expands accountability for such appointments beyond the executive and Chief Justices to include parliamentarians and bar councils and associations; prior to the adoption of such an amendment, involve the bar and parliamentarians in public discussions of candidates for posts on the High Courts.

2. End deviations from the seniority rule in the promotion of High Court judges to the posts of Chief Justice, establish by statute a seniority rule for promotions from the High Courts to the Supreme Court, and when filling vacancies on the High Courts and Supreme Court, promote female judges who are qualified candidates under the seniority rule.

3. End the practices of not confirming additional judges and of awarding government positions to retired judges; establish public audits of all members of the superior judiciary and close family members to ensure that only statutory benefits are awarded and corruption is avoided.

4. End the practice of selectively offering new oaths to judges, and renounce publicly the use of the judicial oath as a mechanism for purging the judiciary.

5. Institute new internal administrative mechanisms for the prevention of corruption and the removal of corrupt High Court judges, with oversight from a judicial commission that includes members of the bars and parliamentarians, and ensure that women and minorities are adequately represented in these mechanisms.

6. Institute administrative reforms that curtail Chief Justices' power over the assignment of cases and of judges, and establish professional, managerial divisions within the courts to fulfil this task.

7. Absorb the anti-terrorism and accountability courts into the ordinary judiciary, jettisoning procedural variations in bail, plea-bargaining, and the physical circumstances of trials that presently characterise those proceedings.

8. Institute courts within Pakistan's ordinary judicial hierarchy, with review in the Peshawar High Court and the Supreme Court, for the FATA, and conform courts' jurisdictions, judges' tenure and judges' privileges in the judiciary of the Northern Areas, including the new Court of Appeals, to practices in the ordinary courts.

9. Endeavour to ensure that judicial decisions at all levels respect international human rights, including the rights of women, and make efforts to eliminate traditional and religious practices imposed by tribal and village councils that are harmful to women.

The full report is a worthwhile read to understand the way in which the government bends the judiciary to its will. As the Supreme Court celebrates, Pakistanis only have reason to mourn.

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