Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has made clear he has no intention of writing the letter to the Swiss authorities that the Supreme Court requires him to write, re-instituting the corruption case against President Asif Zardari. This he did while talking to the press on Sunday in Lahore, when he again said the President’s immunity prevented him from writing. The basic issue is not the number of cases referred to the Supreme Court, as he said, but that he was disagreeing with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution. Such a disagreement is not foreseen under the doctrine of the trichotomy of powers, which provides that there should be a separate body, a legislature, to write laws, an executive, to implement them, and a court, to interpret them. For anyone to claim that the executive could make an interpretation other than that pronounced by the Supreme Court, is to open the doors for any executive authority, no matter how humble, to prefer its interpretation over that of the Supreme Court. That would mean that any citizen aggrieved by the actions of any official would have no forum for the redressal of this grievance, as the officials would claim to be acting legally, and that their interpretation of the law was correct, and the court (which held that another interpretation was correct) could not rewrite the Constitution. The Prime Minister should realize that while he is free to criticize the Supreme Court’s decisions, he is not free to disobey them because of that criticism. That is how the rule of law is supposed to operate, and that is why the present government has been able to refer the Bhutto case back to the Supreme Court, because the only authority which can say that a Supreme Court decision was based on a misconceived notion of the law, is the Supreme Court itself. The persons composing it may be different, but the institution is the same, and only it is allowed to say that an earlier interpretation is incorrect.

The distinction the Prime Minister attempted to draw between ‘interpreting the Constitution’ and ‘rewriting the Constitution’ is also not very helpful. Executive authorities have always regarded the act of interpreting as a kind of rewriting, but this has also led to the development of the idea that while legislatures may make laws, their final shape can only be discerned when it is interpreted by the constitutionally constituted authority. However, since Mr Gilani is at the head of a PPP government, and it appears that the purpose of that government is to save the party chairman, who is also President, from the legal consequences of his actions before he assumed that office, he seems ready to place this interpretation on the constitutional provisions, even at the cost of undermining the institution he heads, the Executive.