Amidst polarisation: Controversy clouds CJP’s career

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ISLAMABAD: On account of polarisation within the Supreme Court, the whole career of Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial has become clouded by controversy.

CJP Bandial is known as a soft-spoken judge and no one has raised a question about his financial integrity throughout his career. He was widely respected in the bar on account of his professional conduct.

“We (bar members) are sad that Justice Bandial’s career is becoming controversial on account of polarisation within the SC,” said Advocate Ahsan Bhoon, who is a leading member of the Independent Lawyers Group.

Another bar member said no one can complain that Justice Bandial misbehaved with any lawyer during the court proceedings.

One section of lawyers believes that Justice Qazi Faez Isa has actually affected the Supreme Court’s workings. Subsequently, the SC judges are divided into two factions on ideological lines.

During  former CJP Mian Saqib Nisar’s tenure, Justice Bandial had also remained part of several benches in politically sensitive cases. Despite his inclusion in those benches, he had not become controversial.

Factionalism within SC increased during former CJP Gulzar Ahmed’s term. Division among senior SC judges started with the elevation of junior high courts’ judges to the apex court.

Justice Bandial had his own philosophy for not following the seniority principle in the elevation of judges. His views were strongly opposed by senior SC judges as well as superior bars including the Hamid Khan Group.

Some unpleasant events occurred during Justice Isa’s case hearing, which further affected the bilateral relationship among SC judges.

Justice Bandial took oath as the CJP on February 1 last year.

Throughout his term, he did not include two senior judges—Justice Isa and Justice Sardar Tariq Masood—in larger or special benches hearing politically sensitive cases.

These benches comprised his ‘like-minded judges’. Despite the accusation of favouritism in the composition of benches, Justice Bandial did not bother to address this issue.

It is witnessed that the present government led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) requested the constitution of a full court several times to hear cases related to polls in Punjab and a piece of legislation that aimed at reducing the CJP’s powers.

However, the CJP did not entertain these requests. Unfortunately, now judicial politics is linked with internal politics and there is mistrust among senior SC judges.

A lawyer said the present government should be thankful to CJP Bandial for not constituting the full court to hear the case about holding elections for the Punjab Assembly for otherwise no judge could have said that elections should be delayed for an indefinite period.

Currently, Justice Bandial is facing strong opposition from both the civil government and the establishment.

The SC is already divided with eight judges on one side and seven on the other.

One section of judges has serious reservations about the CJP’s discretionary powers to form benches, list cases, invoke suo motu jurisdiction and initiate misconduct proceedings regarding the removal of superior courts judges. So far, he could not address these concerns.

However, he nominated former SC judge Iqbal Hameedur Rehman as the chief justice of the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) after consultation with senior SC judges. Lawyers are appreciating this development.

However, CJP Bandial is required to do more for the unity of his institution and this will determine his legacy after retirement. Now political parties and other stakeholders are making him more controversial in order to build a political narrative but he is not getting complete support from own institution.

CJP Bandial also failed to maintain balance in the elections’ case. Now, he and his like-minded judges are being accused of being pro-PTI judges but unfortunately he could not end this perception.

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