The Parliamentary Committee on Judges Appointment (PCJA) has released a statement saying that it feels like a useless addendum, as it is completely subservient to the wishes of the Judicial Commission (JC) – which is staffed by the judiciary. In protest it has decided to stop holding its meetings to approve the JC’s recommendations until “it has a meaningful role and is able to contribute to the process”. The PCJA is correct; its function is merely to rubber stamp the recommendations of the JC and give non-binding suggestions. After a Supreme Court ruling in 2011, even if it withholds its signature the recommendations become final in two weeks time – cognizant of which they approved the latest recommendations before launching their protest. However, the PCJA is incorrect when it claims that it should have a say in the appointment of judges, especially when it’s own proposed constitutional amendment for that purpose is excessive and heavily biased.

Modern democracy is built on the concept of “separation of powers”; the legislature, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, and the armed forces must not be under the control of one person or group of persons, since that can lead to abuse of power. Ideally each power should be controlled by separate groups, who can then effectively keep each other in check. In practice there is some overlap between the functions, but for the large part each power is kept separate. Giving a parliamentary committee the final and unchallengeable say – as proposed by the PCJA – would allow the lawmakers to effectively decide who gets to become a member of the senior judiciary. The judiciary’s ability to strike down laws that breach the constitution or grant the legislature too much power would be severely limited if ‘friendly’ judges are sitting in the Supreme Court benches. This would be especially problematic in Pakistan, where a large portion of the politicians are often embroiled in legal suits. The impartiality of the Supreme court is based on maintaining a pure meritocracy based system, the interference of politicians into the selection process would destroy that.

However, the PCJA is not a “burden on the exchequer” and “a waste of time”, as the body itself has so dramatically declared. It is an important conduit between the government and the judiciary and also helps provide a valuable second opinion. The body can also analyze the political element of appointments to the senior judiciary, such as the need for gender and ethnic diversity, but its suggestions must remain non-binding suggestions only. This does not mean the JC can be as arbitrary as it wants, it must follow a strict seniority based criteria, or find its decisions challenged in the court.