The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, has said very firmly that there is no immunity for anyone ‘come what may’ and everyone must follow the rule of law. He said this at a roll signing ceremony in Islamabad, for lawyers who had been admitted to the Supreme Court bar. The reference he made to immunity might apply to the President, who claimed immunity by virtue of his office, even for acts he had allegedly committed before assuming it, or to the armed forces, which had taken power repeatedly, or even to those who, like the Prime Minister’s sons, thought their exalted status gave licence not to answer any charges. The rule of law implies that not only must all actions be legal, but also that laws be subjected to a uniform interpretation, which can only be provided by one body. The Chief Justice, by saying that body must be the Supreme Court, is not only giving voice to the sentiments not just of Bench and Bar, but also expressing the arrangement made by the constitution.

Chief Justice Chaudhry made the extremely important observation that it was now a new Pakistan, and said that the ‘sea change in Pakistan’s constitutional and political history’ had to be accepted by all. He said that ‘past demons of extra-constitutional interventions’ were being eliminated one by one. That way, he precluded any judicial cooperation with the military, which would lead to a takeover being given judicial validation. No longer, implied Chief Justice Chaudhry would ‘national interest’ be allowed to persuade; only proof that an action was according to the Constitution and law. It should have been noted with pleasure by the present government, but despite its claims that it had strengthened democracy, it had not been as prompt in its obedience to the Supreme Court as would have been required by its protestations, particularly when it came to obeying orders affecting the President. Though the government has duly written to the Swiss authorities about the corruption cases against him, it was only after one Prime Minister was removed from office, and his successor received a contempt notice.

The Chief Justice’s remarks gain an additional importance for the government with the approach of elections. Election disputes will come before the Court he heads, and it has become clear that it has adopted the rule of law, rather than the interests of anyone, as its touchstone. Therefore, it should ensure that it does not play any role which could lead to the Court acting against it because of this. The election will be conducted by a caretaker government, but the present government has a role in its appointment. It should not forget that such a choice, made under the Constitution, will be subject to judicial review by the courts. The old era, of the whim of the ruler applying, no longer prevails. The rule of law is to be followed, as has been shown by the Supreme Court so far.