Onora O’Neill in her 2002 Reith lectures said, ‘breach of trust has been around since the garden of Eden’. But the ever deepening crisis of loss of trust that we as a nation have plunged into, appears to have entered a totally new era. Trust is the greatest casualty in our country. We have never found our governments to be trustworthy. We have always been sceptical of our politicians, and our institutions have been in blatant breach of trust.
According to Transparency International‘s 2010 Global Corruption Barometer, police, political parties and parliament emerged as the first three top-most corrupt institutions in Pakistan. It is interesting that the longstanding common perception of judiciary joining hands in corruption with the top echelon of corruption did not feature in this report. On the contrary, this institution was credited with curbing the menace of corruption. For most of us this would come as a relief. The providers of justice are, at last, beginning to gain public trust, thanks to the efforts of Mr Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan!
Steadfastness against a military ruler earned Mr Chaudhry unprecedented respect in the eyes of the general public. Hailed a hero, he was seen as a saviour of the nation, defender of the repressed, guardian of law, custodian of professional morals. He set out on the apparently insurmountable task of ridding the society of corruption. Taking actions suo moto on a number of issues Mr Chaudhry’s journey to purging the society of evil of corruption continues.
Mr Chaudhry’s efforts have gone some way to restore the trust in judicial system. People are contacting the him directly to seek justice on varied issues and the number of hearings resulting from taking action suo moto is ever-increasing. With several high profile cases, such as NICL affair, and Hajj corruption scandal, the list is growing fast.
While one would have expected this to square the circle, paradoxically the country continues on its steep perilous course! Has the cancer already disseminated with no hope for remedy – or, is there an alternate explanation?
Essentially, an impartial judge has to maintain cold neutrality – an unprejudiced demeanour to all parties. To whichever philosophical theory of justice one may subscribe, the integrity of the guardian of law demands jettisoning all pre-conceptions. Whether utilitarian, liberal egalitarian or libertarian the justice should be without bias. Disturbingly, on close scrutiny of current legal proceedings a very distressing picture emerges. It will be futile to chronicle the proceedings of all the suo moto cases. The taste of what is happening behind the façade of delivering justice and purging the society of corruption can be had by just looking at the two highly advertised cases.
The National Insurance Company Limited (NICL) case has attracted immense attention. At the last hearing of the alleged Rs. 5 billion corruption in this case, the Chief Justice of Supreme Court remarked, ‘thieves are protecting thieves.’ While such provocative remarks coming form a judge in the middle of hearing of a case (when the verdict is far from clear) seriously undermine the course of justice; what is even more intriguing is the verdict on hearing of a petition filed by the Geo Group. The regulatory body Pemra has been ordered by the Supreme Court to ensure all matches of the ICC World Cup 2011 are broadcast through the cable network in Pakistan exclusively on Geo Super. What the general public may not be aware of – but surely is known to the supreme judiciary is the fact that Independent Media Corporation, which owns Geo, is involved in a case of tax evasion of Rs. 1.8 billion!
The Hajj scam has been the focus of media attention like none other. As the Latin phrase dictates: “Homo praesumitur bonus donec probetur malus” – one is innocent until proven guilty. This principle of “presumption of innocence” puts an obligation on the prosecution for the proof of offense. At each hearing the hostile stance of the SC judges against the accused testifies to a palpably profane agenda of the Chief Justice.
We have entered an era of judicial dictatorship. Pressing than ever before, the question now is, ‘who will monitor the monitors?’