Lahore - The judiciary has progressed from a submissive institution to a vibrant and relatively more independent establishment to play its due role in the national life. This journey from diffidence to confidence and from meekness to potency has largely been influenced, rather defined, by the political currents over the years following the creation of Pakistan.
It won’t be wrong to say that in its assent to power the judiciary has been greatly helped by the struggle for democracy. The lawyers’ movement for restoration of judges deposed by dictator-president Pervez Musharraf towards the end of his rule played a decisive role in getting this institution a position that now seems irreversible. But that movement would not have succeeded had the democracy not taken roots, something which enabled the civil society and the political forces to provide the sustained power and the crucial thrust to lawyers’ movement.
The relationship of judiciary with the legal, political and administrative system of the country is not one-way. It has not just been affected by the other parts of the state machine but has also been having major bearing on them.
In the country’s judicial system, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has ultimate and extensive appellate, original and advisory jurisdictions on all courts. It is also the final arbiter of legal and constitutional dispute as well as final interpreter of constitutional law – a power that has contributed in a major way to the shaping of politico-legal and constitutional system.
The apex court over the decades has decided many such cases as had great bearing on the political and democratic edifice. Today this court is once again going to decide a key case which will play a decisive role in determining the political future of the country.
As the most striking feature of the decision in the Panama leaks case is about the political future of a man who is now the Chief Executive of the country for the third time, it won’t be misplaced to have a brief revisit to the cases which directly affected different prime ministers and their governments in the past.
Death penalty to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
The government of ZA Bhutto, the founder of Pakistan Peoples Party and its first prime minister, was sent packing by military dictator General Ziaul Haq in 1977. A murder case was framed against him and he was sentenced to death by a trial court. The High Court upheld his sentence.
After a seven-month-long hearing, the Supreme Court on February 6, 1979 dismissed the appeals of ZA Bhutto and four others against their sentences. The judgment was announced in a packed courtroom by the Chief Justice Mr Justice Anwarul Haq.
In case of ZA Bhutto and Mian Mohammad Abbas, three judges disagreed with the majority judgment and expressed the view that both of them should be acquitted. Four other Judges, however, found that the culpability of Bhutto and Abbas in the murder of Nawab Mohammad Ahmad Khan Kasuri had been proved beyond doubt.
The Supreme Court also rejected the review application filed by Bhutto’s counsel, which led to his execution.
Many jurists have criticised that decision, saying it was given under pressure from a military dictator and the justice was betrayed.
Stamping the ouster of Benazir’s 2nd govt
On November 4, 1996, Benazir Bhutto’s second government was dismissed by President Farooq Leghari on corruption allegations. Leghari, her own hand-picked President, used the discretionary powers he enjoyed under the infamous Eighth Amendment (of constitution) to dissolve the government.
Benazir, the daughter of ZA Bhutto, turned to the Supreme Court hoping for gaining Leghari’s actions unconstitutional. But the Supreme Court justified and affirmed President Leghari’s dismissal in a 6–1 ruling.
Ruling on Sharifs’ return
Nawaz Sharif, whose second term was truncated by the military coup by General Pervez Musharraf, sought legal course to enable him to return to country – before his reported deal with Musharraf for 10 years expired.
On August 23, 2007, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that the former prime minister and his brother, Shehbaz Sharif, were free to return.
On 25 November 2007, when only one day was left to register for elections, Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan. His party got majority in the 2008 elections, enabling him to become the prime minister for the third time.
Pakistan Peoples Party’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani was convicted on the charges of Contempt of Court on April 26, 2012, becoming Pakistan’s first prime minister to be convicted while holding office. He was sentenced to be held in custody till the rising of court, a symbolic sentence lasting 30 seconds.
Opposition parties demanded his resignation, but Gilani refused to step down. On May 28, National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza ruled against sending the disqualification reference to the Election Commission of Pakistan.
The major opposition party in the parliament, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf filed two separate petition in the supreme court , challenging Speaker’s ruling to save Gilani.
In June 2012, the Supreme Court ousted and further disqualified Prime Minister Gillani citing his April conviction.