HRCP raps politicisation of AJK judiciary
LAHORE: The recent controversy over the appointment of judges to the superior courts of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) has exposed constant manipulation of the judiciary by the executive and the consequent politicisation of the judiciary in the AJK, says the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).
Launching the report of a fact-finding mission into the upheaval in the AJK judiciary on Thursday, the Commission said that political interference must end in order to strengthen the justice system in the AJK. The report can be accessed at the commission’s website.
The judicial crisis brewing in the AJK for the last several years had started with the appointment of Justice Reaz Akhtar Chaudhry as chief justice of the AJK Supreme Court in October 2006. Justice Chaudhry had merely spent three weeks as judge of the apex court when he was made the AJK chief justice, superseding a more senior judge, Justice Manzoor Husain Gilani.
A number of petitions were filed in the AJK High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan by lawyers and members of the AJK superior judiciary, challenging appointment of judges to AJK superior courts. References were submitted to the AJK Supreme Judicial Council against Chief Justice Chaudhry and Justice Gilani. Both judges resigned in May 2010.
Shortly before the resignations, the polarisation had reached the point that lawyers protesting against one of the judges had accused him of blasphemy based on a sentence he had written in one of his judgments. The AJK Supreme Judicial Council had also concluded that blasphemy had been committed and had cited it as one of the grounds for removal of the judge in question.
The HRCP says that it was astonished by the charge and added that “such dangerous allegations against judges can become a terrifying trend if not effectively discouraged… There can be no independence for the judiciary if judges are not protected against sanctions for expressing themselves through their judgments”.
The HRCP report says the two judges’ “departure will not remove the root causes of tension in AJK political and judicial systems. These must be addressed so that AJK citizens can enjoy basic human rights, build a democratic political system and strengthen the rule of law”.
The HRCP added that it was critical all appointments and promotions of judges of the AJK superior courts were made on merit, through a proper consultative process and without capricious interference from the executive authorities established through the AJK constitutional framework.
The HRCP recommended that a serving judge should not head the AJK Election Commission, which should be made a permanent and autonomous body.
The HRCP added that the appointment of the chief election commissioner should be made in consultation with the AJK prime minister, leader of the opposition and chief justice of AJK Supreme Court, in order to remove serious doubts cast on the election process.
The HRCP emphasised an enhanced role of the civil society of Pakistan and the AJK, in particular bar associations, to monitor AJK general elections. The HRCP said that the powers shared between the authorities in AJK and the AJK Council, headed by the prime minister of Pakistan, should be rationalised on democratic principles, notwithstanding the peculiar status of the AJK.
The HRCP mission concluded that “interference in the appointment of judges in AJK has not ended (even though the two SC judges have resigned). Lawyers in the AJK have ended their protests but surely the issue was not about the appointment of one individual but graver issues are at stake in the AJK. The HRCP can only hope that institutional changes rather than the change of a few faces will be adopted as a policy in the AJK and by the government of Pakistan.”