Changing The JCP
With every high-stake political decision ultimately being petitioned in front of the courts, it is no surprise that the federal government, who is reported to be none too pleased about the Supreme Court verdict on the Punjab Assembly chief minister election, is trying to inject some degree of parliamentary control over the appointment of judges and justices. The recent meetings of the Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP), and the released audio of the minutes of the meeting, have cast further scrutiny into the appointment process, and with the legal community in a constant deadlock as to whether the seniority or merit procedure should be followed, raised further questions as to the credibility of leaving the decisions of appointment mostly at the judiciary’s discretion.
The Parliament does not appear to be coming slow—the national assembly is not just aiming to tweak the Supreme Court Rules but has introduced a landmark constitution amendment bill, seeking to limit the powers of the JCP in the appointment of superior courts’ judges and giving the parliamentary committee a say in the process.
It is true that the process of appointment of superior judges currently in place requires change—we do not want the legal fraternity in chaos every time the question of elevating a judge to the Supreme Court comes up. It is a good initiative that the parliament has taken to enact the procedure through law as legislative guidance on this issue was definitely necessary. However, it must be noted that the bill in its current version may inject parliamentary say into the appointment process but it does not do much to solve the problems with the process as they exist. For example, it does not comment on the seniority versus merit debate, indicating that the whole ruckus caused with every appointment shall probably continue.
This bill should not be rushed and requires further careful deliberation from both houses of the parliament and consulting legal experts and the Supreme Court and high courts. A constitutional amendment is difficult to undo—and a carelessly worded one can have long-lasting devastating consequences. It is important to always try and improve institutional functioning where possible, but this can only be done if all political stakeholders are on board.