Footprints: The real ‘people’s judge’

Dawn.com: by Mehreen Zahra-Malik — 

Courtroom No One’s marble-and-wood panelled walls, three-storey-high ceiling, skylights and subdued tone have always reminded me of libraries of old, where murmurings are the only language permitted. On Thursday morning, the courtroom felt more austere than usual, lawyers nervously listening to the proceedings, the modern quill pens on the tables whispering the long list of historic cases decided in this dignified room.

“Do you want a dismissal or would you rather withdraw the case?” Chief Justice Tassaduq Jillani asked the bumbling counsel graciously but firmly.

The lawyer, who had been rambling on about a washing machine, decided to withdraw.

This was the most fun this courtroom would see all day.

I watched the lawyer gather his papers and drag his black-suited body out of the courtroom, passing by a woman litigant sleeping in a back bench, her face covered with a yellow and maroon polka dotted scarf. There were no thundering observations to disrupt her nap.

I looked at my watch. Justice Jillani was done with the case in five minutes and twenty-three seconds.

“Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry heard one case in nine hours. Justice Jillani hears nine cases in one hour,” a reporter sitting next to me quipped. And then more seriously, “When Justice Jillani retires for the day, the cause list is almost always cleared. There are no pending cases.”

Next up was the case of a professor of pathology who I gathered felt he had been unfairly removed and was subsequently not given relief by a trial court.

Reading through the case notes before him, the chief justice asked for the page number of the trial court’s order.

“Page?” the chief justice asked as the lawyers furiously thumbed through the notes before him. A few seconds later, again: “Page number?”

“If this were Iftikhar Chaudhry’s court, he would have given him an earful by now and dismissed him,” whispered the reporter.

But Justice Jillani, unlike his predecessor, does not seem to think he has a tryst with destiny. He has none of Justice Chaudhry’s megalomania that had for years threatened to topple the power balance supporting Pakistan’s shaky democracy.

Today, the marbled corridors of the Supreme Court that the former CJ for years ruled with an iron grip are teaming with critics who say his courtroom victories — fighting government corruption and taking on the all-powerful military, among others — were bought at the price of Pakistan’s stability and the legal profession’s integrity. Justice Jillani, on the other hand, has largely avoided the high-profile political cases that Justice Chaudhry delighted in. Instead of taking on military generals, disqualifying heads of government and routinely summoning federal secretaries and high-powered ministers as a lord would his serfs to a royal court, the new chief justice has focused on ordinary litigants, even though their cases may not be worthy of mention on a newspaper’s front page.

One litigant, an 82-year-old man from Lahore, pleaded before Justice Chaudhry that he was a heart patient and would have to stay at a guesthouse at personal cost if the court didn’t hear his small family dispute that day.

“The CJ promised to take up the case,” a court reporter told me. “But half an hour later, he got up from the bench and retired to his chamber.” What does it mean to be a people’s judge, I asked Kamran Murtaza, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association.

“His judgements should reflect the sense of justice of the public at large,” he said. “And he should hear cases properly, treat lawyers with respect, follow court decorum and then pass an order on the basis of law, his intelligence, and above all his moral judgement.”

And you think this was not the case under Justice Chaudhry?

“We have our reservations,” Murtaza replied. He paused and then continued, “It will take decades for the legal profession to recover from the damage one judge has done.”

But will there ever be another Iftikhar Chaudhry in Pakistan?

Tariq Khokhar, the additional advocate general, recounts a story that appeared in The Sunday Times after Lord Denning, the controversial British judge, retired. “When Lord Chancellor Hailsham considers the field of successors, it is safe to say he will choose no one like Denning,” Khokhar said, quoting the piece. “There is no such beast on the bench of judges.”

Outside, the dozens of television crews fighting for parking spaces and camera angles in preparation for the courtroom drama that was always expected when Justice Chaudhry heard a case were nowhere to be seen. And as hard as I tried, I could not conjure the memory of frenzied crowds chanting, “Chief tayray jaan nisar, beshumaar beshumaar.”

Origional Post here:  http://www.dawn.com/news/1110930/footprints-the-real-peoples-judge

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