By Adil Rashdi
TORONTO: The former acting chief justice of Pakistan, Justice (retd) Rana Bhagwandas, on Wednesday night said he was positive about the restoration of deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and his colleagues.
He expressed these views while delivering a lecture to a large gathering at the University of Toronto on ìThe Independence of Judiciary and its Importance for Democracy in Pakistanî, organised by the Sindhi Association of North America, GTA chapter.
Justice (retd) Bhagwandas said by his own admittance before the media, President Musharraf, who he termed ìde facto ruler and self-styled presidentî, had taken an extra-constitutional step by declaring emergency in the country and removing the chief justice of Pakistan and several other judges of the superior judiciary.
He added that this action was in fear of a negative verdict by the Supreme Court on a petition challenging the eligibility of Musharraf to run for presidential elections as he was the chief of the Army staff and, hence, a public servant.
Justice (retd) Bhagwandas praised the efforts of deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to uphold the independence of judiciary.
He said: ìIn the recent past, when the fundamental rights of the people of Pakistan were grossly trampled, the right to freedom of expression, human liberties free from undue interference and right to association were disturbed unlawfully, and illegal restrictions were imposed on the media, the superior judiciary in Pakistan being the custodian of the Constitution, basic human rights and liberties of the common man, and guaranteeing the fundamental right of the people, under the stewardship of Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, became actively responsive.î
He said suo motu actions were taken by the judiciary in the public interest and to ensure the compliance of the laws of the land and not on any whims or due to judicial activism. The role of the executive in suppressing the superior judiciary was shameful, he added.
Justice (retd) Bhagwandas said the deposed judges would have to be restored with full past benefits. The independence of judiciary, he pointed out, was essential for the economic, social and political welfare of the country.
In the absence of a strong and independent judiciary, he held, investors were moving their money to Dubai and elsewhere. On judicial reforms, he said the legal education system required updating and improvement. Training of the judges of the subordinate judiciary was also necessary, he said, adding that it was the responsibility of the legislature to initiate the judicial reforms.
Responding to a question whether the present PPP government would restore the deposed judges or not, Justice (retd) Bhagwandas evaded giving a political statement and said the judges would be restored eventually.
However, responding to another question, he did express his disappointment with the nonchalance of the present government in addressing this critical issue. Replying to another query about a statement of PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari made in an interview that deposed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had delayed attending to his case, Justice (retd) Bhagwandas said it was not the truth.
Among the audience were a large number of students, businessmen and members of the media, including Anis Farooqui of the Voice of Toronto and Adil Rashdi as well as prominent intellectual and member of the Pan-Canada Journalistsí Forum, Munir Pervaiz. The President of SANA GTA, Kolachi, welcomed Justice (retd) Bhagwandas while Farooq Shaikh and Maqsood A Soomro gave the introduction and conclusion addresses, respectively.