Outgoing Chief Justice of Pakistan points to constitutional litigation for SC’s performance

Islamabad: Blaming the current political situation in Pakistan for hindering the judicial performance of the Supreme Court, outgoing Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial has said that the “bitter constitutional litigation” had impacted the top court’s working, media reports said on Tuesday.

Bandial, the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), was speaking at a full court reference, a ceremony to mark the commencement of the judicial year 2023-24 on Monday, a day when the apex court reopens after a three-month vacation. His speech was termed a farewell speech as he would be retiring on September 16. He took office as the top judge in February 2022.

“The bitter constitutional litigation has impacted the Supreme Court’s performance. The court was put to test in a trying contest which was … only hostile and aggressive [and] as a result we sat back and became [its] victim and suffered in performance,” Bandial, 64, was quoted by the Dawn newspaper as saying.

He expressed the hope that the number of political and constitutional matters would decline so that the court could focus more on disputes concerning he ordinary litigants. He had also pointed out how the backlog remained substantial, with only 2,000 cases addressed out of the desired 50,000 reduction, the Dawn mentioned.

For the past almost one year, the Supreme Court has been marred with controversies against the backdrop of a political crisis, the Dawn reported and added, how Bandial had said he prayed for “political stability that would bring economic stability” but regretted that his “innocent observations” were sometimes mocked.

The term “short and sweet judgment” was turned into sarcasm, he said, referring to his remarks earlier this month on a petition filed by former prime minister, Imran Khan challenging amendments to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) law.

His greeting “good to see you” was taken out of context and misreported, Bandial said and remarked that he expected accurate reporting from the media, the Dawn said, referring to the CJP’s remarks when Khan, arrested in an alleged corruption case, appeared before him, seeking bail.

At the full court reference, the CJPs usually take stock of achievements and mention the missed-out targets along with a to-do list for the next year. But, quoting legal experts, the Dawn said, “The CJP’s speech hints at the possibility that the ceremony was his last official commitment and that he may not be addressing a full court farewell reference on the eve of his retirement, as per tradition.”

The Express Tribune newspaper reported that Bandial recounted the trials faced by the court during his tenure and regretted that the Supreme Court remained bogged down by controversies. “Bandial blamed the ongoing political situation for hobbling the judicial performance,” it said, adding, “Justice Bandial candidly admitted that the court itself had fallen victim to the tough test and environment.”

Bandial chose not to delve into specific incidents and what transpired but he said the decision made in the audio leaks case was a reflection of the challenges faced, the Express Tribune said. Bandial was quoted as saying that “the overall stability will come only with political stability in the country.”

As CJP Bandial begins his last week in office, the media report pointed out how under his tenure, “the top court has been criticised by mainstream political parties, especially the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) for extending undue favours to the beleaguered Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.”

PML-N president and former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif had last month accused CJP Bandial of “favouring” Khan, saying his messages to the lower courts led to the suspension of the sentence of the former premier in the Toshakhana corruption case.

The Islamabad High Court last month suspended Khan’s three-year sentence in the Toshakhana case and ordered his release from jail.

“The ‘favourite’s’ sentence has been suspended, not terminated,” Sharif said as he called the verdict a “dark chapter” in Pakistan’s history. (PTI)

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