Activists and civic organizations are pushing for Pakistan’s top judge to be put on trial for allegedly transgressing his constitutional authority.
This week, 98 people filed a complaint before the Supreme Judicial Council, the highest constitutional body that hears cases against judges accused of misconduct. They are calling for an investigation to determine whether Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar is guilty of wrongdoing.
“[The chief justice] has, through his remarks and actions, indulged in conduct unbecoming of a judge, politicized the judiciary, [and] violated the principles of the separation of powers,” read an October 14 press release by Women Action Forum (WAF), a nongovernmental organization. “[He] has demonstrated negligence and the inability to adjudicate in an independent, neutral, non-partisan, and impartial manner.”
After taking office in late 2016, Nisar has frequently employed the power of suo motu, or taking up cases on his own initiative. He has scolded officials for failing to provide basic services and has been vocal on issues that many judges avoid discussing in public. He established a fund for the construction of dams and makes regular visits to hospitals and psychiatric facilities.
As an activist judge, he has often questioned the integrity of politicians. Members of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the former ruling political party, and other politicians have accused Nisar of overreach by interfering in the executive branch’s work and doing the country’s powerful military’s bidding by meddling in politics.
Nisar and the military, however, reject such criticism. They have denied any role in politics and say they are acting in the interest of Pakistan’s 208 million people.
Just last week, Nisar vowed to reform the Pakistani judiciary. “When you [judges] fail to fulfill your obligations, there will be delays [in dispensing justice],” he told a gathering in the eastern city of Lahore on October 12. “Why wouldn’t the people’s trust erode if you delay [delivering] justice?”
Unlike many of his predecessors, Nisar has suggested specific reforms. “We have to do justice in accordance with [the] law, but the law needs to be improved,” he said. “The role of the judiciary is akin to that of an elder; without respect for the judiciary, there can be no balance in the society.”
Nisar denies acting against democracy. “We are being accused of accepting certain cases, of being part of an anti-democracy campaign, but the judges must not come under any pressure,” he said. "We have to fight for those people who unfortunately don't have the means to get their rights.”
For now, his activism is giving critics ample ammunition.
“One of the core reasons for the collapse of state functioning in Pakistan has been the inability and unwillingness of state pillars to remain committed to their immediate duties or to fulfill their direct obligations,” WAF said. “Delusions of grandeur have led the military and judiciary to repeatedly violate the principle of the separation of powers.”
Given the fact that Nisar now heads the Supreme Judicial Council because of his status as the country’s top judge, activists are calling for another judge to head the probe into his conduct.
“We have opted to file [this compliant] because this is the only lawful avenue available to us in order to record our protest and seek a corrective course,” the activists said.