LAHORE – Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry landed himself in a very difficult position by taking suo motu notice of the allegations, levelled in some media programmes, that his son Arsalan had received up to Rs 400 million from the owner of an important real estate company.
He himself is heading the three-member bench that will decide the matter. If he exonerates his son, many will get an opportunity to brand the decision as favouritism. But in case the verdict is against the man, everybody will cite the example of smoke and fire. The happiest lot in both cases will be the party in power.
The court has started taking measures which are necessary to meet the ends of justice. For example, Dr Arsalan has been quoted as saying that his father has forced him to leave his house till the case is decided. He has also been asked not to contact the CJP by any means during the intervening period.
The difficulties in deciding such cases started appearing from the very first day. The Attorney General asked the CJP not to sit on the bench as it will be against the code of conduct.
The CJP told him that he is aware of the code and will take note of the Attorney General’s point of view in the ultimate order.
The CJP’s position would have been equally difficult even if he had referred the matter to some other bench. In that case an order in favour of Dr Arsalan would be taken as a lenient view taken by ‘brother judges’.
Judges, normally, don’t hear cases in which their relatives, friends or even acquaintances are parties. They refer such cases back to the chief justice with the request that the same should be listed with some other bench.
Then the judges have their own way of favouring litigants.
A woman, who had family terms with a former chief justice of the Lahore High Court (now late), got her case listed with a bench headed by the CJ.
The CJ refused to hear the case and sent the file back with remarks that the petitioner is his sister.
The woman, who was expecting a decision in her favour, got angry and met the CJ at his residence to register her friendly complaint.
The chief justice entertained her with a cup of tea and then told her that when any other bench reads that the petitioner is his sister, it will not pass any order against her. “There can’t a greater favour”.
On hearing this explanation, the woman burst into laughter.
The purpose of narrating this story is only to say that Justice Chaudhry faces a real challenge that might not have confronted him since his reinstatement as a result of a popular movement. He had been deposed by Gen Musharraf but the masses made him the chief judge once again.
As he took back the mantle, people’s expectations went sky high. They wanted him to uproot injustice, discrimination and corruption and protect their rights as courageously as he had protected his own after being thrown out of office.
With the passage of time, many of his supporters and admirers feel frustrated because the system working under his leadership has not delivered. The increase in the trend of committing suicides reflects hopelessness engulfing the society. Anybody hoping to get justice within a reasonable time would not like to take his/her life.
There are countless fans of the CJP who got disillusioned when the court orders were disrespected by those in power – and the court remained unmoved. The apex court also did not take any notice when it was labelled as a Sharif court by none else but a man who is the prime minister.
The judicial policy given by Justice Chaudhry had rekindled a ray of hope among those who had lost the hope of being able to get justice ever in their lifetime. The policy had set timelines for courts to decide cases of various categories.
But after a couple of years, there has been no improvement in the situation. The timelines have become irrelevant. Despite the increase in the number of judges and better facilities to them, the number of pending cases is going up.
The allegations against his son have provided the chief justice another opportunity to rebuild his image and come up to people’s expectations.