An issue that has consistently divided the legal fraternity time and again is that of the process of elevation of judges. There has never been an agreement as to how and under what criteria a judge is to be elevated from the high courts to the Supreme Court—one camp, “the professional group” have strongly advocated the seniority principle—that judges should be elevated based on their seniority and position. Others have argued that seniority does not ensure competence and that appointments ought to be merit-based.

This longstanding issue has been raised again, this time due to the consideration of the elevation of four judges to the Supreme Court from different high courts. Every time this happens, there are various strikes, protests and heated debates on the process, and this time is no exception. There appears to be little agreement—so far, the Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP), the commission responsible for the appointment of Supreme Court and High Court Judges in Pakistan, appears to be split, and deferred its Thursday meeting without a decision in order to acquire more information about existing candidates.

This is a complicated issue—with both sides having legitimate concerns. The legal fraternity that argues in favour of seniority is right that arbitrariness in the elevation process injects uncertainty and the possibility of bias and favouritism in the judiciary. However, it is also true that the seniority principle makes it difficult for women or minorities to be elevated as judges due to the prevailing male dominance in the profession. This is an issue that will be debated heatedly in the coming weeks—it is hoped that the legal fraternity and lawyer groups partake in fruitful discussions, rather than resorting to ultimatums and strikes. Whatever the decision, it is clear that there should be a well-defined set of parameters for ascension.