Awaking to the news that the government in Pakistan had agreed to reinstate Chief Justice Chaudhry I couldn’t help but feel a pride in the legal profession and happiness for all those lawyers in Pakistan who have sacrificed so much in terms of personal safety and lost income in making this happen. Hopefully, it will mark a step in the direction of a politics where every group (whether the political parties, military, judiciary, or outsiders like the Americans) realizes it is impossible for any one group/person in the country to dominate power by themselves . Instead, everyone will benefit by strong institutions that allow power-sharing along pre-agreed rules of decision-making (i.e. a robust constitutional system).
That said, there are still plenty of reasons for concern, even when just looking at the independence of the judiciary. That part of the reason Sharif called off his protests was that Zadari also agreed to appeal the case that disqualified him and seemingly guaranteed that the verdict would come out differently does not bode well for judicial independence. Nor is Sharif’s record on judicial independence clean – he has in the past physically attacked the Supreme Court as well as threatened to imprison a sitting Chief Justice.
On a more academic note, we might also want to consider what made the Chief Justice such a powerful figure in all this – i.e. his or her ability to decide who sits on what panels and which cases are taken or not, and thereby directly control outcomes of cases and their timing. A similar system of course is found in India as well. Not all panel Supreme Courts have this design though. Mongolia, for example, creates a small committee of Surpeme Court judges to decide how cases will be distributed. This may not be the system one wants to follow, as although it arguably makes it more difficult for the executive to control one judge who can control the Court, it also prevents “maverick” chief justices like Chief Justice Chaudhry of having as large of an impact. Still, I think recent events will help feed our understanding of what a Chief Justice’s role should ideally be.
For those interested I’ve found that generally the best coverage of the second long march in Pakistan has come from the Dawn.