WASHINGTON: chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has defended judicial activism, saying the courts have the duty to protect fundamental rights of a citizen and to keep the government within the parameters of the Constitution.
Addressing a gathering at the law school of the Georgetown University in Washington on Tuesday, Justice Iftikhar said the Pakistani Constitution allowed superior courts to take suo moto actions when necessary.
“In the case of the Supreme Court there is not even a need for an application by an aggrieved person,” he said. “The Supreme Court may take up a matter suo moto provided that it feels that a question of public importance relating to the enforcement of fundamental rights is involved.”
Justice Iftikhar noted that on Nov 3, 2007, the then government abrogated the Constitution and declared a selective martial law against the judiciary and the media because it felt threatened by the two institutions.
He said his struggle was not aimed at getting himself reinstated but for restoring judicial independence. He said that no judge would have the confidence to take independent decisions if the Nov 3 order was not reversed.
After his address, Justice Iftikhar presented copies of some of his judgments in suo moto cases to the law faculty to show that all such decisions were taken in greater public interests.
These included halting the exploitation of children, suspending marriage-ban on nurses and air-hostesses, staying public hangings, restraining the dumping of factory waste in rivers, stopping appointments in violation of recruitment rules, regulating traffic pollution, restraining deforestation and conversion of public parks and schools into commercial ventures and ordering the release of persons detained without formal order or charge.
Justice Iftikhar also highlighted the measures he had taken to stop the practice of ‘swara’ and ‘vani’, which allows tribal jirgas to use girls as compensation in blood feuds.
The students were also shown a documentary, prepared by a Pakistani women rights activist, Samar Minnllah, on these practices.
Many in the audience cried as they saw girls, some as young as 4-5, being given away like cattle for the crimes committed by their father or brother.
Earlier, Justice Iftikhar visited the US Supreme Court, where senior judge Steven Briar welcomed him and told him that he still regarded him as the real chief justice of Pakistan.