Long live Justice Athar Minallah

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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Long live Justice Athar Minallah of the Pakistan Supreme Court

Long live Justice Athar Minallah

By Justice Markandey Katju, former Judge of the Indian Supreme Court

Pakistan's judiciary is in the grips of its biggest scandal in memory as several senior judges accuse the country's powerful security service, the ISI, of using violence and intimidation to strong-arm them into deciding cases against former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is in jail since early August last year.

The explosive allegations by six top judges of the Islamabad High Court -- including claims of secret surveillance by hidden video cameras in their houses ( even in their bedrooms ), threats to judges not to decide in favour of Imran Khan in his myriad legal cases, and abduction and torture with electric shocks of one judge's brother-in-law -- were contained in a letter to Pakistan's Chief Justice and the other judges of the Supreme Judicial Council.

Claims of intimidation are not unknown in Pakistan's legal system. But this is the first instance in its history that multiple judges have collectively levelled such serious accusations against the state intelligence agency.

The allegations have been documented and brought on record. and the issue cannot be put on the backburner and just wished away.

The six judges of the Islamabad High Court wrote a letter dated 25th March 2024 to the Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court Qazi Faez Isa and other judges of the Pakistan Supreme Judicial Council complaining of interference by the intelligence agencies in their functioning. In that letter, they mentioned the intimidatory tactics mentioned above.

A few days thereafter 8 judges of the same High Court received threatening letters containing suspicious substances

Three judges of the Lahore High Court have also received threatening letters containing some mysterious white powder

A six-member bench of the Pakistan Supreme Court is hearing the matter, and several other petitions have been filed in this connection

It was expected of the Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa to take a firm stand against interference with the independence of the judiciary and protect the judges of Pakistan, but his observations on the bench reveal that he is not inclined to take any such strong step. He said that no instances of interference with judicial independence came to his knowledge ever since he became the CJP, which means that either his statement was patently untrue, or he has turned a Nelson's eye to what was going on in Pakistan, and was of common knowledge.

Qazi Faez Isa is known to be complicit and servile to the Pakistan Establshment, as I have mentioned in my article below

In the hearing on the complaint of the 6 Islamabad High Court he made wishy-washy observatiobns, which revealed he had no serious intention to protect the judges from interference in their functions by the executive, and most of the other judges on the bench played to his tune.

However, one judge, Justice Athar Minallah, came out strongly and courageously in favour of judicial independence. He clearly said that in Pakistan the state had been aggressive against the judiciary for 76 years, and added that it is difficult in Pakistan to speak the truth. He spoke of abductions of citizens by the state agencies, and the judiciary's failure to prevent these illegalities. He referred to Justice Babar of the Islamabad High Court whose personal data which could not be legally accessed by private persons was put on the social media, and said that jJudges must be protected from interference by state agencies.

To the fatuous observation of Justice Musarrat Hilali that judges who could not stand pressure should resign he retorted by giving a fitting reply.

He stated that it was because the judiciary of Pakistan had been complicit that the executive had dared to interfere with its independence.

He stood up to the inane and laughable observation of the Chief Justice who said that the interference in judicial independence could be due to 'interference from within'.

He also stood up to Justice Mansur Ali Shah, who is known to be a toady of the Chief Justice.

He defended the Islamabad High Court judges, and said there was no reason to doubt the veracity of their complaint

By his bold and courageous stand for judicial independence, Justice Minallah has come out with flying colours, and given the hope that Pakistan's judiciary will one day overcome the stigma cast on it by servile judges who did the bidding of the executive like former CJP Munir who propounded the egregious doctrine of necessity to justify military coups, or the Chief Justice of Lahore High Court Maulvi Mushtaq Hussain who committed 'judicial murder' by ordering Bhutto to be hanged, or the servile present CJP Qazi Faez Isa. His name deserves to be recorded in the annals of judicial history in letters of gold, like Chief Justice Coke of England who stood up to King James I, Justice HR Khanna of the Indian Supreme Court who refused to be party to the shameful judgment of the majority in ADM Jabalpur vs Shivakant Shukla, 1976 which said that a citizen had no right to life or liberty during an Emergency, and thereby lost his chance of becoming the Chief Justice of India, or Lord Atkin of the British House of Lords who in his famous dissent in Liversidge vs Anderson, 1942 said '' Amidst the clash of arms, the laws are not silent '' and was ostracised by his brother judges, or Justice Harlan of the US Supreme Court who dissented from the majority's disgraceful enunciation of the 'separate but equal' doctrine in Plessy vs Ferguson, 1896 which perpetuated racial apartheid in USA for several decades.

Long live Justice Athar Minallah

(Justice Katju is a retired judge of the Supreme Court. These are his personal views.)

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