As Justice Chaudhry walked last week into the twilight of his eventful career pronounced some far reaching verdicts with dramatic speed which further boosted his public image.

In a span of one week the Court ordered senior military officers of FC in Balochistan to appear before police for interrogation, issued contempt notice to the IG, a serving major general, directed FIA to take action against PM Yousuf Raza Gillani in the Haj case, forced military authorities to produce quite a few missing persons, declared illegal the allocation of 52 billion rupees development funds during period of Raja Pervez Ashraf as Prime Minister and scrapped a decade old LPG license issued to a private vendor. Not ordinary verdicts indeed.

But the ending in blaze of personal glory of a judge’s judicial career is one thing and a positive impact on the course of judiciary as an enduring legacy quite another.

Following its restoration in 2009 as a result of a popular movement the Chaudhry Court found it difficult to rise above populism. TV channels participated in proceedings flashing as breaking news the comments of honorable judges constituting a preliminary declaration of guilt. It was bound to influence negatively investigations and prosecution before lower courts and undermine the right to fair trial guaranteed under Article 10-A of the Constitution. The media has been a complainant in many cases. It also acted as cheer leader providing a platform for thunderous public applause that seemed to be relished.

The jurisdiction under Article 184 (3) to take suo moto notice of issues of public importance and violations of fundamental rights was over reached. The seemingly irrational basis of what constituted ‘public importance’ and ‘fundamental rights’ and the opacity surrounding it baffled many. It also led the court into the domain of other state institutions.

There is no doubt that a great deal of good has been done by the exercise of suo moto powers. But no amount of good done can compensate for the harm done by the use of awesome powers with little consistency or rationality. The powers under Article 184 (3) to take suo moto notice vest in the Supreme Court and not in any one individual judge.

When exercised by one judge he may appear larger than life but it also gravely undermines the normal judicial system.

The court under Justice Chaudhry assumed sole power to appoint and sack judges. By overturning decisions of the Parliamentary Committee for the appointment of judges, declaring that the President and Prime Minister had no role other than that of a post office in the process and disallowing any other member of the Judicial Commission to make nominations, the power to appoint judges was dangerously concentrated in the hands of few judges.

During the past over four years all of the judges were appointed on the recommendations of the chief justices alone. The rejection by the Parliamentary Committee of only eight nominees of the Judicial Commission was also overturned. The July 31, 2009 verdict under Chaudhry resulted in the sacking of over one hundred judges. An entirely new mechanism, other than Article 209 of the Constitution, was laid for sacking judges.

Never before in our judicial history so many judges (literally in hundreds) were appointed and sacked by just a few judges.

When the fate of a judge lies in the hands of CJs alone, the judiciary runs the risk of ending up a monolithic structure. The chief glory of a bench lies not in a command structure with honorable judges appearing to vie for loyalty and obedience to the chief. Nor it lies in large benches delivering unanimous verdicts. Its glory lies in diversity of opinion and legal arguments enriching the jurisprudence. The flower of diversity seemed to have withered under CJ Chaudhry. Freeing the judiciary from external interference is his legacy no doubt, but an enduring legacy would have been to free the individual judges from the influence of peers.

The lines separating state institutions were blurred, if not erased. The Court stepped into the Parliament’s domain by annulling the Speaker’s ruling, sacking an elected Prime Minister and overturning the contempt law passed by the Parliament. It seemed to crave legislative power by proposing that the CJ be consulted in the appointment of Chairman NAB. It assumed the functions of the Election Commission by giving its own schedule of Presidential elections. It stepped into the domain of the executive by appearing to order postings, transfers and disciplinary cases against officials.

The argument that the judiciary had to intervene because other state organs had failed is flawed. What if the same argument was advanced by any other state institution to take over the functions of another institution including the judiciary?

By taking its own independence alone far too far, the court provoked leading jurists to make poignant remarks. The President of the International Crisis Group Justice Louise Arbour remarked that the judges appear to have become “intoxicated with their own independence” saying also that the current direction threatened to upend the very democratic order that restored them to the bench. At the end of the historic year of transition in all state institutions it would be worthwhile if the Parliament, the Judiciary and relevant stake holders revisit the direction the court took under Justice Chaudhry and examine if a course correction is needed.

The writer is a PPP senator.