Crime & Justice

Pakistan's new chief justice pledges reform, separation of powers

AFP and Pakistan Forward


Pakistan's 26th Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa (right) takes the oath of office in the presence of President Arif Alvi (centre), Prime Minister Imran Khan (left) and a number of other dignitaries on January 18 at the President's House in Islamabad. [File]

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan swore in a new chief justice on Friday (January 18), pledging reform at the Supreme Court whose controversial decisions include disqualifying a prime minister and acquitting a Christian woman accused of blasphemy.

Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, 64, became the 26th Chief Justice of Pakistan after a televised ceremony at the President's House in Islamabad saw the judge take the oath in front a crowd of dignitaries.

"I will do right to all manner of people, according to law, without fear or favour," Khosa said.

Rated as Pakistan's top expert in criminal law, Khosa is also known as the "poetic justice" for his habit of citing works of literature in his legal judgments.

Last year, Khosa was a member of the Supreme Court panel that overturned the death penalty of a Christian woman jailed for blasphemy, sparking days of violent protests staged by Islamist hardliners.

He was also among the judges who disqualified former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from politics for life in 2017 in response to corruption allegations against Sharif.

In his judgment, Khosa cited the Balzac epigraph from Mario Puzo's 1969 novel "The Godfather," which reads: "Behind every great fortune there is a crime."

Separation of powers

Avoiding his poetic references as he bid farewell to his predecessor, Mian Saqib Nisar, Khosa pledged to bring important reforms at the judicial branch.

Nisar had been widely criticised by the legal community and politicians for his broad use of his suo moto powers -- a device in the Pakistani legal system that allows a judge to take notice of any issue of public interest.

Operating under the cover of such powers, Nisar was known for making surprise inspections, often unrelated to his work, and famously launched a massive crowd-funding effort to build dams.

Some critics even accused him of blurring the lines between judicial and executive powers.

On Thursday (January 17), Khosa called for a resolution to such concerns and to bring the judiciary to its constitutionally intended role.

"Let us discuss the alleged encroachment of the executive domain by the judiciary ... and how best the judiciary can return to its normal but effective adjudicatory role," he said.

He also vowed suo moto notices would be used "very sparingly."

Akram Sheikh, a former president of the Supreme Court Bar, lauded the remarks as a "very welcome gesture."

The move to "separate the powers of the judiciary and the executive expunged by the new chief justice will ensure dichotomy of power and strengthen democracy," he told AFP.

A 'practical' man

Pakistan's judiciary currently lacks the capacity to cope with the country's surging population and an expanding case load, resulting in a mammoth backlog.

A staggering 1.9 million cases were pending in the country's courts, according to Khosa, with only 3,000 judges to deal with them.

"He is a more practical man and it is a known fact about the chief justice that he speaks through his verdicts," Tariq Waheed, a senior Peshawar-based TV journalist, told Pakistan Forward.

Waheed added that the creation of a court system in the former tribal areas will also likely move quickly under Khosa in the Supreme Court. "He was on the bench that issued the verdict about the FATA recently," he said, referring to the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

"He will make sure that like other parts of the country, the people of FATA also get justice through a proper court system," adding that he hopes that such a system will start working and delivering justice in tribal areas in the coming months.

[Javed Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report.]

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