ISLAMABAD- Judges do not merely interpret the words of the Constitution but also have the duty to protect it against any move or scheme, said Chief Justice of Pakistan Nasir-ul-Mulk, while addressing full-court reference on the eve of the start of new judicial year 2014-15.

“Judiciary will not only retain its fidelity to the Constitution but also ensure that such fidelity is observed by all other functionaries of the state,” said the chief justice.

Legal experts, in view of the sit-ins by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek, consider the CJP speech very important at a time when the demonstrators have blocked the Constitution Avenue for the past three weeks and some political parties, including Awami Muslim League, PAT and PML-Q, are urging the apex court to stay away from the political impasse.

Ikram Chaudhry, while talking to The Nation, said there was a clear message to all and sundry in the speech.

Each year after the summer vacation a ceremony is held in the Supreme Court on the start of the judicial year to review the performance during the past year, so that future policies of the court could be designed to further justice and protect rights of the people. The holding of formal opening ceremony of judicial year of the Supreme Court started for the first time in 1979 and since then it has become a permanent feature of activities of the apex court.

Justice Nasir said primary obligation of every judge is to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, which should be undertaken without fear, favour, affection and ill will. “No consideration or obligation is above the loyalty of judges to both the text and spirit of the Constitution,” he asserted.

Progress, security and development are not possible in the absence of safeguards provided in the Constitution. “No society can survive in a constitutional vacuum where fundamental rights of the people are not guaranteed or protected. Restrictions by the State functionaries on the freedom of the people are open and subject to judicial review, which tests the restrictions so imposed upon the bar of constitutionality. However, under no circumstances it should be assumed that rights granted under the Constitution are absolute as they remain subject to reasonable qualification and reasonable restrictions,” he said.

The chief justice made it clear that the rights and duties are like two sides of the coin and one cannot exist without the other. “It should be kept in mind that rights are to be exercised keeping in view the corresponding duties. It is the task of the judiciary to ensure that rights in a democratic society are balanced with counter-imposed duties,” he said. The judiciary has to play a progressive role in the creation of such a peaceful society by endeavouring to promote adherence to the Constitution.

“As the final arbiter of the law, this court is charged with providing to the people justice under the law and thereby also functions as a guardian and interpreter of the Constitution. The Supreme Court and the judiciary of Pakistan shall forever endeavour to dispense justice to all, without being affected by any interest or extrinsic considerations,” the CJP maintained.

“As a democratic society, it is incumbent upon all the citizens to collectively promote respect for and obedience to the Constitution. Various facets of justice such as economic, political and social are correlated to the progress of constitutionalism in our country,” he averred.

“This judicial year started with a carry-over case balance of 19,932 cases while a total of 17,491 new cases were instituted in the Supreme Court, of which 13,872 have been disposed of, but due to the backlog of cases from the previous year, pending cases before us are 22,089,” the chief justice said.

Attorney General for Pakistan Salman Butt, Pakistan Bar Council Vice Chairman Ramzan Chaudhry and Supreme Court Bar Association President Kamran Murtaza also spoke on the occasion.

INP adds: The chief justice said the Supreme Court has demonstrated its determination to preserve and protect our written Constitution, thereby protecting and promoting democracy and good governance in Pakistan.

Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk elaborated that a path which deviates from constitutionalism regresses into an age of apathy, where no rule of law exists.

He agreed that painful delays are faced by litigants due to the twin crises of backlog and delays existing at the Supreme Court and other levels of the judicial hierarchy.

He said they are cognizant of their responsibilities to reduce the backlog and are strenuously working towards that goal. He hoped that by the summer of 2015 the backlog of criminal cases would be completely wiped out.

The chief justice said the backlog of cases in Peshawar and Quetta registries of the Supreme Court had piled up because no regular benches had been constituted there for quite some time. “At Peshawar we had a carryover balance of 2,171 cases and the net pendency at the end of the year is 2,801. While at Quetta, the carryover balance was 641 and at the end of year 1,027 cases remain pending,” he said.

He said this pressing issue has been duly noted and we have planned to constitute benches in both Peshawar and Quetta registries shortly.

He said the role of the learned bar in preserving the Constitution and protecting the rights of the people is indispensable. He re-emphasised the role of bar as an integral part of the justice delivery mechanism and asked it to help the judiciary eliminate the scourge of backlog and pendency.

Chief Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk said they are endeavoring to deliver inexpensive, speedy and impartial justice to fulfill the trust reposed by people of Pakistan in the judiciary. He said the rule of law can only prevail in country when judiciary remains faithful to the dictates of the Constitution. He asked the judges to renew their pledge to the same principles as they embark on the journey of another judicial year.

He thanked former Chief Justices Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and Tasadduq Hussain Jillani for their legal acumen and services to the cause of justice and upholding of the Constitution.