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Tumultuous end to a whirlwind era

12 December, 2013

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ISLAMABAD: Romance between the media and outgoing Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry came to a tragic end on his retirement day, as the Supreme Court's administration on Wednesday allegedly provided the video footage of the Supreme Court's full court reference to one TV channel (Geo), and other TV channels started a campaign against the outgoing CJP.

It was noticed that one TV anchor also exposed the illegal acts of CJP's son Dr Arsalan Iftikhar as well. According to the details, soon after the full court reference proceedings, electronic media reporters chanted slogans against the disparity and alleged that a Supreme Court staffer had facilitated the private channel in covering the event which was supposed to be an in-camera session. They contended that certain provisions of the constitution were flouted because a particular channel was allowed video footage of the full court reference.

Secretary to the outgoing chief justice, Abdul Hameed tried to satisfy various television court reporters, saying that the full court video was not exclusively for a particular television channel as a private video cameraman was asked to cover the event. However, he failed to address the media channels' reporters because they had announced a boycott of all the events which were being arranged in honour of the outgoing CJP.

Supreme Court Bar Association President Kamran Murtaza and Pakistan Bar Council Vice Chairman Qulb-i-Hassan have condemned the incident and said that it was a discriminatory act to provide video footage to one channel. Meanwhile, the reporter who managed to get video footage of the full court reference claimed it is the right of every journalist to do exclusive work. Likewise, romance between the lawyers and outgoing CJP has also died because office-bearers of superior bars boycotted the farewell dinner, which was arranged by the Supreme Court in honour of retiring Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on Wednesday.

It had already been declared that lawyers would not give any farewell dinner to Justice Iftikhar because he did not take action over the lawyers-police clash on the Supreme Court's premises. The SCBA executive body, with the majority of 17 of 20 members, on Wednesday suspended the membership of its vice president, Naeem Sarwar, who had arranged a dinner in honour of the outgoing CJP.

It has also been learnt that lawyers of bar associations of five Punjab divisions on Wednesday celebrated the outgoing chief justice's retirement as the "day of deliverance" and distributed sweets in the bar rooms. It must be noted that in the last two months, three applications were moved for filing of a presidential reference under Article 209 of the constitution against Justice Iftikhar. Similarly, the Supreme Court staff is raising questions over Justice retired Iftikhar's decision to promote his Private Secretary Nisar Ahmad to Grade 19 since 2005. He also promoted his Protocol Officer Chaudhry Hameed, who is known as his close fellow, to Grade 19.

One senior officer of the Supreme Court, while talking to our sources, expressed concern over these two promotions and said they would challenge the decision in the court. It has also been noticed that Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has also given tough time to his opponents after his restoration. Former law minister Babar Awan's practicing licence has not been restored for the last two years. Likewise, tough time was also given to former president Asif Ali Zardari, former attorney general of Pakistan Malik Qayyum, former NAB chairman Fasih Bukhari, former NAB prosecutor general Irfan Qadir, additional prosecutor general Abdul Basir Quraishi, business tycoon Malik Riaz, former CDA chairman Kamran Lashari and several media persons.

Pakistan People's Party leaders are expressing disappointment over the outgoing CJP's judicial activism, which had continued during the party's time in government. They also complained that the ex-CJP did not give verdict in the two-year-old presidential reference about the revisit of PPP founder Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's murder case, which showed his personal grudge against the PPP. They claim that there was a nexus between Justice Iftikhar and a media house during the PPP government's tenure.

Similarly, some senior lawyers allege that the CJP has misused contempt of court power and initiated contempt proceedings against parliamentarians since the restoration of judiciary in March 2009. During the last year, the Supreme Court fixed several contempt cases against politicians, including former prime ministers Yousaf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf, PTI chairman Imran Khan, MQM chief Altaf Hussain and PPP leaders Taj Haider, Sharjeel Mamon, Babar Awan and Rehman Malik.

After the issuance of July 31, 2009 verdict, superior courts initiated contempt of court proceedings against those superior court judges who had taken oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO). Later on, a special bench was constituted to initiate contempt proceedings against more then 60 PCO judges. But with the passage of time, most of these judges submitted unconditional apology and, therefore, evaded conviction.

When Arsalan Iftikhar's matter surfaced in June 2012, a series of contempt of court incidents was witnessed, as the Supreme Court initiated contempt proceedings against real Malik Riaz for allegedly ridiculing the judiciary during a press conference. Likewise, the court also served notices to the owner of a media house and two TV anchors on a petition to initiate contempt proceedings against them for airing a "planted interview" of Malik Riaz in a special talk show on June 13, 2012.

On September 25, 2012, the Supreme Court indicted the chief editor of an English magazine for scandalising and disrespecting the judiciary by publishing a news report about an email allegedly written by the Supreme Court registrar to seek tax returns and verification of receipts from British companies which had provided services to Arsalan Iftikhar. The chief justice also initiated contempt proceedings against former NAB chairman Fasih Bukhari for writing a letter to the president of Pakistan against the Supreme Court. Most of these contempt cases are still sub judice.

The superior judiciary headed by retired Justice Iftikhar has lacked self-accountability, and restoration of several top jurists raised questions over several acts of courts and its proceedings in Arsalan Iftikhar case, second extension to Supreme Court Registrar Dr Faqir Hussain, third extension to Federal Judicial Academy (FJA) DG Pervaiz Chawla, non-appearance of its registrar before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), fixation of sugar prices and contempt cases related to media persons and parliamentarians.

Likewise, during his eight years' tenure, Chief Justice Iftikhar failed to change the fate of ordinary litigants, as more than 1.65 million cases are pending in all the courts. Fees of lawyers have also increased; therefore poor litigants cannot approach the superior courts to get justice. Corruption is still on the rise in lower courts. Muhammad Akram, a citizen of Chakwal, said that his case regarding land matter was decided after 45 years.

Under Justice Iftikhar the Supreme Court's fight with the military and intelligence agencies over alleged rights abuses was widely praised. Under Chaudhry, the court consistently demanded the authorities reveal the whereabouts of hundreds of missing people who relatives allege were held by security personnel. Chaudhry's successor, Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, is described by legal observers as "a gentleman" and expect him to steer clear of intervening in government policy.

End.

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