| 23 September 2023, Saturday |

Pakistan’s top court proceedings shown live on TV for first time

State television in Pakistan broadcast Supreme Court proceedings live for the first time on Monday, providing an unprecedented look at the inner workings of a body that has historically had a significant influence on the nation’s politics.

With this decision, Pakistan’s new Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa officially begins his term in office.

Isa, 64, was sworn in as chief justice on Sunday after he became the most senior judge of the court on the retirement of his predecessor Justice Umar Ata Bandial. Isa’s first move as the top judge was to open proceedings for live broadcast.

“It is a majority consensus decision to telecast live,” Isa said at the start of proceedings shown live by state-run broadcaster Pakistan Television. Previous attempts to broadcast proceedings live had been blocked by the court.

The broadcast was shown uninterrupted by all major Pakistani channels.

Adding to the interest of the proceedings was the nature of the case, which pertains to legislation that curtails the discretion of the chief justice to take up any legal matter directly, commonly known as suo moto action, and his powers to entrust cases to his fellow judges.

The legislation passed by parliament earlier this year had pit the outgoing coalition government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif with Isa’s predecessor.

Supreme Court judges retire automatically upon reaching the age of 65, and the next most senior judge is elevated as the chief justice. There is no set tenure for a chief justice.

Isa’s elevation has garnered nationwide interest given his reputation as a maverick judge and his hard-hitting judgements criticising the role of the country’s powerful military in politics.

The military has ruled Pakistan for over three decades of its 76-year history, and wields enormous influence in politics, including making and breaking civilian governments. The judiciary has historically legalised military rule and, critics say, helped the country’s generals remove elected leaders.

Political parties and analysts say army generals are trying once again to strengthen their grip over country’s governance under a caretaker government led by Prime Minister Anwar ul Haq Kakar, who comes from a pro-military party.

Isa has given several landmark judgements during his judicial career, including a 2019 ruling that posed scathing questions about the role of the military and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency in brokering a deal between Islamists and the then government.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was close to the then chief of the ISI Faiz Hameed, attempted to have Isa removed as a judge on charges of financial impropriety in 2018 – a charge that was thrown out in 2019 for want of evidence by his fellow judges.

  • Reuters