This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Critics speak out against outgoing influential judge, who is accused of meddling in politics for personal aggrandisement
Jon Boone in Islamabad theguardian.com, Wednesday 28 August 2013 11.30 BST
Many analysts regard Iftikhar Chaudhry as second only to the country’s army chief in his ability to influence the government. Photograph: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images
An unprecedented surge of criticism directed at Pakistan's chief justice by lawyers, politicians and even sections of a once-fawning media threatens to bring to a close years of interference in government affairs by the country's top judges. After he ordered the sacking of a sitting prime minister and the cancellation of host of critical economic initiatives, Iftikhar Chaudhry came to be regarded by many analysts as second only to the country's army chief in his ability to influence the civilian government. But as the 64-year-old edges towards retirement in December, a backlash has begun and increasingly his critics are speaking out. "He's a dictator! A judicial tyrant!" said Abid Saqi, the president of Lahore's high court bar association, a powerful body representing 20,000 lawyers that in July called for the chief justice and two other judges to be charged with misconduct.
. most of the time. That was partly due to Chaudhry's immense popularity – a 2011 Gallup poll found he was the most popular public figure in the country. judges are addressed as "my lord". Or. Suo motu. and contempt of court rules that bar the "scandalising" of the judiciary. Chaudhry burnished his reputation further by picking causes and hauling ministers and officials into his grand marble court building in Islamabad. "Iftikar Chaudhry has enjoyed a degree of power that is unparalleled. where. privatisations and major infrastructure projects. And he was the architect of a major extension of rights to Pakistan's transgender community. But other actions have been much more controversial. "He does whatever the hell he wants. such is the chief justice's enthusiasm for picking up populist causes highlighted by the media. Some of its initiatives have won praise from human rights campaigners – particularly Chaudhry's scrutiny of security agencies engaged in a dirty war against separatists in the province of Baluchistan. he is making it up as he goes along. he is outside the law and. as one critical lawyer puts it." said one lawyer." He made extensive use of two once obscure legal tools: suo motu powers to investigate any issues of his choice. a Latin phrase meaning "of his own volition". which his court has cancelled or delayed on several occasions.Saqi added: "He has destroyed the judiciary as an institution and destroyed the constitutions as a sacred document for his own personal aggrandisement. in a holdover from the colonial era. has become almost a household phrase in Pakistan. "ripping up the entire supreme court jurisprudence that had gone before". particularly in the area of government contracts. After returning to power on the back of one of the biggest popular movements the country has seen. which have been used to silence critics. He became a key national figure during the struggle by the "lawyers' movement" to force his reappointment in 2007 after he was sacked and put under house arrest by former military dictator Pervez Musharraf." Until recently few dared to speak out at all. He ordered individuals who have been "disappeared" without formal arrest to be produced before his court. let alone use such colourful language. It amounted to a judicial revolution.
Yousaf Raza Gilani. . even though it was continually subjected to his suo motu investigations. flour and gas. In July. But it is his recent meddling in politics that has prompted attacks on him. "If we spoke out he was just calling everyone in contempt. In June last year. The court regularly involves itself in other matters of public policy. The candidate proposed as his replacement was seen off by the supreme court even before he could be appointed while his ultimate successor was also threatened with being ousted." complained Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed. which had been widely regarded as corrupt and worthy of Chaudhry's investigations. the party's prime minister. a former PPP member of parliament.Critics say the court's orders display an ignorance of economics and international business and have deterred badly needed investment. to which the main opposition party strongly objected but was not allowed to put its case. It also provided an opportunity for his enemies in the legal community – many bitter at what they claim is Chaudhry's favouritism in appointing judges – to lash out. he asked the country's election commission to hold the presidential election a week earlier than planned. was forced to step down after Chaudhry found him guilty of contempt of court." But fears that such standoffs could scupper Pakistan's fragile transition to democracy have faded since the successful elections in May that ousted the PPP. It prompted intense anger within the political class over what was regarded as blatant violation of the independence of the election commission. "The party was divided over whether to confront him because of fear that if we did so the whole system could be derailed. particularly in projects to help solve the country's crippling energy shortages. at various times ordering the almost insolvent government to slash prices of sugar. Before this year's general election in May. One of the few tax-raising initiatives in this year's national budget had to be reversed after Chaudhry weighed in. the previous government led by the Pakistan People's party was reluctant to confront Chaudhry.
Riaz said he had been effectively bribed by Arsalan. and I don't think that's going to change. however. The court ultimately backed down. "The supreme court has evolved under Chaudhry into one of the country's paramount institutions. a national icon with millions of diehard supporters could have been barred from elected office. had accepted gifts from him worth more than £2m in the form of stays in luxury London flats. One person who could afford to throw caution to the wind was controversial billionaire property tycoon Malik Riaz Hussain.Chaudhry has also picked a fight with Imran Khan. who last June launched a blistering assault on the chief justice. "But criticism of this chief justice and his suo motureign has focused . the leading opposition politician whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) bagged the second largest number of votes in May's national elections. and to a certain extent it has succeeded. He was accused of contempt after criticising the judiciary for failing to prevent alleged election rigging. Chaudhry responded. claiming newspapers are carefully vetting articles on the supreme court before they are published. hotels in Park Lane and gambling debts in Monte Carlo. some suspect the many enemies Chaudhry has made in the legal profession and politics will try to get the issue revived after he steps down in December. Babar Sattar." said Sattar. a doctorturned-businessman called Arsalan. He produced reams of documents detailing how Chaudhry's son. initially with a suo motu investigation that he led himself. Most lawyers are anticipating calmer times under a new chief justice. with fewer challenges to the authority of government and parliament. Although the investigation has since gone quiet. "The court is trying to control the narrative at a time when criticism is mounting." he said. who was trading on his father's name for favours. said the court had stepped up its efforts to quell mounting public criticism with contempt laws that are barely used in other parts of the world. If found guilty. before recusing himself from the case. a lawyer who was recently reprimanded by the court for some of his newspaper columns.
attention on some big problems and I think the next chief justice will want to address some of them." .
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.