Pakistan, Karachi: PM Vs CJ

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani cautioned the apex court on Monday to remain within its constitutional bounds lest it provokes a clash between the three tiers of government.

“The powers of all institutions are described clearly in the constitution,” said the prime minister, while addressing the Supreme Court Bar Association at the auditorium in the Supreme Court compound in Islamabad.

“Institutions should not enter each other’s space. They should each work in their respective domains,” said Gilani.

He did, however, hasten to clarify that the government had no intention of violating any orders passed by the judiciary, and believed in the separation of powers laid out in the constitution.

“We respect the Supreme Court and will respect all its verdicts,” he said.

This is not the first time that the prime minister has issued a veiled warning to the judiciary. On several earlier occasions, notably involving the transfers of officials in the civil service and law enforcement institutions, the government had claimed that the court was interfering in administrative matters beyond the scope of its constitutional powers.

(Read: Govt, judiciary back away from confrontation)

Monday’s speech was less explicit in its rhetoric, focusing more on the building of institutions and the current administration’s commitment towards strengthening the country’s democratic set-up through the 18th and 19th amendments to the constitution.

Yet given the fact that the prime minister’s speech comes on the heels of the restoration of Zafar Qureshi – the lead investigator in the embezzlement scandal at the state-owned National Insurance Company Ltd (NICL) – the remarks may be seen as the prime minister seeking to demarcate the scope of his powers as chief executive of the country.

Much of his speech was devoted to highlighting what the prime minister felt were the services of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) to the cause of judicial independence.

For instance, he pointed out that, upon assuming office in March 2008, the government immediately ordered the release of all judges who had been placed under house arrest by the administration of then-president Pervez Musharraf.

While he did not mention it, the prime minister was also reported to have been advocating the restoration, in 2009, of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who had been ousted by Musharraf in 2007.

Poor reception

Despite announcing Rs200 million in government aid to construct a new building for the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), the prime minister’s speech was neither well-attended nor well-received by the legal fraternity.

Only about 40 people or so attended the speech, and most of the prominent members of the SCBA – Aitzaz Ahsan, Ali Ahmed Kurd and the like – were not present.

Soon after his speech, the executive body of the SCBA – though not its president Asma Jahangir – condemned the prime minister’s warning to the Supreme Court as being disrespectful of the judiciary.

Legal assistance

The prime minister noted that while the Lawyers’ Movement (2007 – 2009) galvanised the nation around the idea that the judiciary should be independent and impartial, the country would need to move forward with the next phase of judicial reform: making justice affordable for all.

To that end, he said that the government had amended the Legal Practitioners’ and Bar Council Act 1973 to make it mandatory upon the government to provide financial assistance to bar associations. He did not, however, link that aid to any provision of legal assistance to poorer citizens who do not have the means to afford representation in courts.

By Qaiser Zulfiqar
The Express Tribune

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