In the decade of the sixties, I had the chance of visiting the residence of Malik Muhammad Akram on Mozang Road. He was elevated as a judge of the Lahore High Court (LHC) and later the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP). In those days, friends preferred to live as house guests instead of staying in hotels. My father’s friend from Karachi, C M Latif (Sahib), used to stay with Malik Sahib on whom we called to discuss business opportunities.

Upon the elevation of Malik Sahib to the bench, I heard an interesting story. Before taking up the post, he called all his close relatives for advice. Everyone was elated and there was a big yes. Malik Sahib thanked them but imposed a conditionality; “No one will ever approach me for any work/favour”. There was complete silence but the message had been delivered, loud and clear. His son, Malik Muhammad Qayyum followed his father’s profession, rose up the ranks due to his abilities but then had to resign by not imposing the strict code of conduct of his father. Despite his professional abilities, he never made it to the SCP.

In the United States of America, the oldest constitutional democracy of the world, it is believed that people with immoveable assets are like sitting ducks as they and their families can be called to account for their wealth. This approach was followed when the Constitutional Convention was called in Philadelphia from May to September 1787. All state nominees were respected property holders. This is perhaps the only constitution in the world formulated by un-elected representatives. It has been hailed as the ‘Miracle of Philadelphia’; an outstanding piece of legislation that did not need amendments (Only 27 in 235 years). The 1973 constitution of Pakistan as written, has not been implemented in letter and spirit, yet amended several times (23 times in 49 years). No system can work without accountability. ‘Ducks’ holding expensive real estate should always have their documents and money trails ready, to avoid finger pointing and embarrassment.

Judges are required to keep away from public contact. As Governor, Nawab Amir Muhammad Khan resided alone in the Governor’s House. His children were not allowed to enter without permission. Though as students, we were against his heavy handedness, his honesty and integrity were always above board. It was rumoured that he developed differences with the President when the trucks carrying wheat belonging to the first son were stopped at the Wagah border. The sons of the dictator brought a bad name to their father and so did the son of the former restored Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP). The Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) is the body for accountability of the judges but it has not been effective. General Pervez Musharraf tried to bypass the process to obtain the resignation of the then CJP which triggered the ‘Lawyer’s Movement’. Somehow, fellow judges stand by their ranks instead of looking after wider national interests. The brilliant legal mind, Manzur Qadir, decided to step down as Chief Justice of LHC as his creative legal activities were being stifled. Several outstanding lawyers refused to sit on the bench as they considered their private practice to be more professionally rewarding.

There are some interesting proverbs that describe the situation; “Burning the candle at both ends” and “Having your cake and eating it too”. Being a judge is no simple task, it requires neutrality and honesty; a difficult quality which ordinary mortals do not possess. Individual and family assets will always come under scrutiny. ‘Those who do not like the heat should stay away from the kitchen’, is a famous American saying.

‘Hunters’ and ‘pointers’ have the advantage over sitting ducks. To avoid being the prey, judges should voluntarily declare their assets to remain above board. The SJC should be allowed to do its work, otherwise another accountability mechanism should be developed to enhance the credibility of the judiciary. The way forward is ‘isolation or openness’, nothing in between will work. Today, Justice Muhammad Akram’s approach stands vindicated; there are lessons to be learnt now that his grandsons are in the same profession.

Dr Farid A Malik

The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation, email: fmaliks@hotmail.com