Not guilty, but guilty?

We had long desired that life be breathed in the process of judicial responsibility to ensure that justice dispensers remain at a high level of probity while judging fellow citizens.

The wish came true. But the kind of responsibility that has been exhibited ranges from rookie-style hazing to good witch hunts. No one knows what the precise rules are. There is only one general sense: he who crosses the wrong people is out.

Also read: Judge Isa had offered to resign from CJ

The judges are holders of public office. Not only do they exercise delegated authority (and therefore lack arbitrary discretion), but they must also exhibit an unwavering commitment to fundamental justice that elevates them above the fray and makes them worthy of fulfilling God’s role in the earth. The justice business is not supposed to be driven by pique, prejudice, partisanship, personal glory and fear. Maybe that’s expecting too much from fellow mortals. But that is what the job demands.

What is at stake in the conduct of the Supreme Judicial Council is obvious. At the center is judicial independence. A fair and transparent accountability process embellishes the integrity and independence of the justice system. But revenge as responsibility sounds like death for independence. Then there is justice. If the judges cannot judge their own in such a way that justice is done, what hope do common litigants have? And finally, are the judges exempt from the principle that apply to others: that public officials must act in a transparent and reasonable manner?

Writing letters to the president: SJC dismisses reference against Judge Isa

As lawyers, we disagree with court decisions all the time. That is why we have an appeal process. We also like the courtesy of some against others: some judges are polite and patient while listening to the arguments, others are abrasive. But the most critical thing is personal integrity: is the judge susceptible to strange influences or will his conscience and honest understanding of the law (even if it is incorrect) guide him?

Even among those who disagree with the decisions or mannerism of Judge Isa, there are many who will answer for their reputation as a direct shooter. Then, when they drag him in the mud, one does not care for his own good but for everyone else’s. Our history is no stranger to judges being encouraged or forced to sign the dotted line. So, if skeletons can be made in their case, for many it is written on the wall.

The counterargument that is heard is that if Judge Isa is as clean as he claims, he will come out brilliant, as his brother judges judge him. The main problem with this argument is again our history of cooptation and coercion and important judgments that are rarely made independent of the wishes of the state. When CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry was locked in his house, his brothers were judged, and the lawyers and others who protested at that time knew it.

When the senior judges who now make up the SJC were expelled and confined in their homes after November 3, 2007, many of their sister judges sat down with pleasure in their chambers and continued working as if nothing had happened. The fears of the legal fraternity have their roots in this story without glory that tends to be repeated too often and resists becoming something of the past.

Under the CJP, Chaudhry emerged the unusual practice of media judgments that are executed along with judicial trials, shaping the public narrative and demonizing those who are on the wrong side of the system. The practice decreased during the terms of the CJP Jillani, Nasir-ul-Mulk and Jamali, but was revived by the CJP Saqib Nisar. In the face of media judgments, the dependence of the SC on the doctrine of the subjudice has been selective. He often just raised his hands when asked to intervene. But, if necessary, he has stepped on his heels to make sure there are no public comments on a matter under trial.

Judge Isa is being probed for not disclosing property ownership in the United Kingdom of his wife and adult children. He claims that they are not his dependents, so he could not disclose his assets in his declaration of wealth. One would have assumed that a judge in exercise of the SC being tried in the media and painted black while his reference is pending trial would persuade the SC to intervene. But he hasn’t done it.

What has been most intriguing in the whole affair is the second reference against Justice Isa alleging misconduct because he wrote letters to the president of Pakistan that broke into public domain

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