LAHORE: Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed vehemently rejected the allegations by Ali Ahmad Kurd that superior courts were taking any dictation from any institutions, warning that masses should not be misguided and misled by anyone.
Speaking at the inaugural session of 3rd Asma Jahangir Conference here on Saturday, he said, “It is important to answer Ali Ahmad Kurd’s allegations. Nobody should have any misunderstanding. It is my duty to clarify our position if the allegations are at all directed at my court.
“About my Supreme Court judges, I can say with confidence that all the judges are working with integrity; they are working hard and overtime.
“They are consistently working to deliver justice to people and are working hard for prosperity of the country,” he added.
The CJP categorically said: “We do not take any dictation. I, for my part, do not work under any pressure, nor do the other judges.”
Responding to the allegations, he further said: “Likewise, my high court judges, whether they are of Islamabad High Court, Peshawar High Court, Lahore High Court, Sindh High Court or Balochistan High Court, are working very hard. My lower judiciary is doing its work with dedication.
“People can challenge a judgement in a higher court if they are not satisfied with it; it is their constitutional right.
“Issuing a general statement that courts are not free amounts to undermining their authority. It is not true. I do not remember if I ever decided a case under any pressure.
“There is no pressure. Nobody guides me how to decide a case, nor anyone have the courage to interfere. I have always made decisions on my own and all my judges have sound character and they act independently,” he said.
“You should come and see the way we deal with cases. You should read our judgments. We write judgments in the light of the Constitution and the law.
“My court gives justice to the people. Come to the court Ali Ahmad Kurd and see what is happening. Read the court’s decision and see what is happening. My judges write judgments every day … see how our court is working with freedom and following the law and implementing the Constitution.
“Without quoting any [specific] instances, you are giving a generalised statement. The court decisions go through an evolutionary process. When people have objections, they can challenge.” Justice Gulzar said the courts were free to decide whatever they wanted to do and did so routinely.
“Tell me which case was decided on whose dictation till today,” he said as he advised Kurd to “not tell wrong things to people, create discord and lift the people’s trust from the institutions.” “In this country, there is rule of law, not of institutions. We will not accept any undemocratic setup. We will quit as we did in past,” he said. He was the last speaker at the inaugural session on ‘The role of judiciary in protecting human rights and strengthening democracy’.
Earlier, the Asma Jahangir Conference started on a high-profile note with a number of speakers from top judiciary of the country, but the person who set the tone of the conference was Ali Ahmad Kurd, with his highly charged speech. He warned that things were getting out of hand and people would have to stand up for their rights and risk their lives to save the country.
Ali Ahmad Kurd, former Supreme Court Bar Association president, while speaking said that Pakistan is slipping through our fingers. We need to strive together for making the powerful institutions function within their framework.
He believed the country needed a coherent attempt for reformation of all institutions so as to make them work within their domain.
He also criticised the judiciary for not dispensing justice, leaving the masses on a wild goose chase for redressing their grievances.
He said a great majority of victims could not get justice despite spending day after day in courts, which had lost the credibility.
“For seven, eight years … people (have been taken) away in Balochistan and there is no news about them….Pakistan’s judiciary is on 126th position among 130 countries. It is fourth from the bottom,” he said.
Asma Jahangir was the voice of the underdog of this country, Kurd said, adding, he did not agree with the topic “The role of the judiciary in protecting the human rights and strengthening democracy”, chosen by the management of the conference.
“Which judiciary? Hundreds of thousands of people come to courts from 8am till 2:30pm and when they leave for their homes, they leave with wounded souls.
“You say such judiciary will protect human rights? It will strengthen democracy?
“I gave the most sacrifices for the judiciary of this country. It is my right to speak. We respect the judiciary and fight for people’s rights in whatever way we can, but even in this judiciary, that is touching the bottom line, there is division.
“What message are we giving to people? I am a responsible man and I feel sorry about it,” he said. “There is no intellectual class in this country, and there is no middle class as well; the reason why those sitting on top in this country are people of small statures,” he said.
Justice Qazi Faez Isa came up with examples from Holy Quran and Pakistan’s history to justify the argument for women’s rights and freedom of expression, etc. “You don’t beg for democracy. It’s your right to have democracy,” said Justice Faez Isa as he talked about the merits of seeking forgiveness and repenting and about the need for mahasba or self-scrutiny and introspection.
“Fundamental right to information has moorings in the Holy Quran,” Justice Qazi Faez Isa said. He dedicated his paper to Asma Jahangir, and listed press freedoms, rights of women and rights of girls to education as among some of the priority areas for Pakistan.
Justice Athar Minallah thanked Kurd for opening the dialogue. He said he would discard the original draft that he had written for the occasion and speak on the points raised by Kurd. Justice Minallah then quoted examples from Pakistan’s chequered history where the courts and then civil society both had failed the country — allusions which were then expanded on by Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court.
“Let me assure Mr Ali Ahmad Kurd that no judge who is independent can ever make an excuse that he can be pressurised or influenced. Any such excuse … I’m afraid … is a violation of the oath,” Justice Minallah said.
The IHC chief justice said judgements in cases such as the Mohtarma Nusrat Bhutto case and the Zafar Ali Shah case were part of history and could not be erased.
“These judgments were responsible for the making and enabling of those that have been referred to by Mr Ali Ahmad Kurd,” Justice Minallah noted. Justice Minallah said the judicial organ could not afford to “bury its head in the sand and ignore its mistakes.” He promised mistakes will not be made in future.
Lahore High Court (LHC) Chief Justice Muhammad Ameer Bhatti said that judiciary is the guardian of citizens’ rights. The LHC CJ said that judiciary has significant role in the society. The Constitution gives importance to the fundamental rights of the people, he added. The LHC CJ said that citizens’ rights are basis of democratic society.
SCBA President Ahsan Bhoon said democracy needs legal protection and indiscriminate accountability. “The superiority of democracy lies in separating of power. Rulers have repeatedly tried to gain legitimacy through courts,” he said and added, “Pakistan’s judiciary has the power to alter the course.”
Sulema Jahangir, Asma’s daughter, said Asma Jahangir was for due process for all without fear or favour. She believed that a judgment, which was made without due process, was flawed. She said Pakistan ranks 130 out of 139 countries in adherence to rule of law. “Rule of law is the bedrock of development. We must fight all challenges to human dignity. It is compromised all too often in our region. There must be an unequivocal demand for democracy. The state and deep state must be held accountable,” she said.
The first session was on human rights in the country in which the speakers were Chief Justice Supreme Court of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmad, Chief Justice Islamabad High Court Athar Minallah, Chief Justice Lahore High Court Muhammad Ameer Bhatti, Justice Qazi Faez Isa, who has been among the judges most in news, SCBA President Ahsan Bhoon, EU Ambassador Androulla Kaminara, British High Commissioner to Pakistan Christian Turner, Canada’s High Commissioner to Pakistan Wendy Gilmour, UNDP’s Country Director Knut Ostby and Ambassador of Netherlands Wouter Plomp.
The venue, a marquee, was packed with lawyers, civil society activists, students and journalists.