Not so long ago, some of the most commonly heard complaints from the mouth of an ordinary Pakistani citizen were “who is there to listen” or “the law is only for the poor and the weak.” The rich or powerful were considered beyond reproach of the law. That observation, however, is changing with the present courts.

From the missing persons issue where the role of state agencies was questioned to the NRO case in which immunity granted to former public officials was quashed, a visible trend of calling in the rich and powerful to the dock has been observed.

When Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry took oath as Chief Justice of Supreme Court in June 2006, he was just another judge of the top court. But it was his unique way of dispensing justice that soon caught the attention and optimism of the ordinary people. For those in the power, nevertheless, he was an obstacle in the way of their misdeeds.

In his tenure, the Supreme Court gave back Pakistanis their valuable asset, the Pakistan Steel Mills, which was sold out by the government at throwaway price in the name of privatisation. The then government dictated by General Pervez Musharraf was rattled to see their will taken away by the judiciary. Many other cases, including the issue of missing persons, convinced the dictator to send the CJ packing.

In what unfolded as a test of strong leadership skills, Justice Iftikhar refused to sign his resignation letter when Musharraf asked him to do so at his powerful camp office in Rawalpindi on March 9, 2007. This led to the lawyers movement for the restoration of the judges. The CJ was ultimately restored.

Since then, he has been relentlessly working to achieve truth and justice against all odds. He has, indeed, washed the dirt that was attached with the judiciary in Pakistan – i.e. it has always followed the dictates of successive military rulers, ignoring the will of the people.

Having said that, it is also unfortunate that in the past five years of the PPP-led democratically-elected government, the nation has witnessed inaction on the implementation of many decisions given by the courts. As a matter of fact, procrastination and delaying tactics were adopted by it in several cases just to buy time.

For instance, it took more than three years for the judiciary to decide and implement its order in the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) case, which legalised corruption by allowing its architect General Musharraf extension in power. But all the officers, who tried to implement the court’s order, were either sidelined or transferred.

In another landmark decision is in the Asghar Khan Case, which found former military officials guilty of disbursing funds to politicians in 1990 to influence polls outcome, action was delayed on the part of the PPP government.

Moreover, it also kept in cold storage the Supreme Court’s notice that the government had failed to protect the basic rights, such as right to life of the people. When Quetta was shaken by bomb blasts in January, everybody realised that the court had rightly and timely cautioned the incompetent provincial government. So, whether it is the murder of Shahzeb Khan, target killings in Quetta and Karachi or any other national issue, the last hope for the people is the higher judiciary.

The question, however, is: why have the masses all of a sudden pinned their hopes on the judiciary, rather than the civilian government, for the solution of their problems?

For one, the Chief Justice has established some tough standards that treat everybody equally in the court of law; he does not fear the strongest and decides the cases on merit. He has set examples by summoning as well as punishing people in power.

In the past, however, the lowest level officer used to be suspended and made accountable for the wrong doings of his superiors. It was impossible to even think that absconders, like Shahrukh Jatoi or Hamesh Khan, could be apprehended and brought back to Pakistan after they had successfully escaped abroad.

Indeed, the ultimate beneficiary in all court judgments, including the rights of eunuchs, CNG price reduction, facilitation to pensioners, Hajj refunds and salary increase for lady health workers, is the common Pakistani.

Further, the role of Justice Iftikhar has not only been acknowledged in Pakistan, but also internationally. In November 2008, the Harvard Law School awarded him “Medal of Freedom”.

The Dean of Law School, who later became Justice of the Supreme Court of USA, praised him by saying: “Distinguished lawyer and judge, through your courage, conviction and steadfast commitment to the independence of the judiciary, you stand as a model for those working to maintain the rule of law in Pakistan and around the world.”

Also, the “Times” magazine ranked him in the list of top 100 influential people of the world in April 2012. He has been bestowed the prestigious and world-renowned “International Jurists Award - 2012 “in recognition of the tireless and fearless endeavours made by Justice Iftikhar towards administration of justice in the country against all odds.”

Needless to say, the name of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry will be written in golden words in the history of Pakistan for his tremendous contribution to justice and equality.

The writer is a freelance columnist.