Bar council calls for judicial reform

The Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) has issued a White Paper calling for reform of the judiciary and restoration of the country’s constitution. The PBC, the legal profession’s regulatory body, released the White Paper in the Punjabi city of Lahore, on Saturday.

"For the past three years, we have been struggling for the restoration of the constitution as it existed on the 10 October 1999, before the military coup carried out by Gen Pervez Musharraf," PBC Vice-Chairman Mian Abbas Ahmed told IRIN from Multan in Punjab Province.

The White Paper takes issue with the Legal Framework Order (LFO), which is a decree comprising constitutional amendments introduced by Musharraf. The paper maintains that repeated verdicts of the Supreme Court in favour of the military encouraged the Musharraf government to effect extensive amendments to the constitution through the LFO, in spite of the fact that, according to the 1973 constitution, a two-thirds majority in parliament is required for amending the constitution.

"There are issues of concern relating to the LFO. First is the issue of the eligibility of Musharraf to be president while he is a serving head of the country’s military," the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Hamid Khan, told IRIN from Lahore.

Khan accused Musharraf of packing the National Security Council with military officials. "The power of the president as an un-elected individual to dissolve assemblies as and when he chooses was undemocratic," he said.

On the issue of the integrity and quality of current judges, Khan said: "The president has destroyed the judiciary by bribing the judges to remain in office for another three years beyond their retirement. This is an open collaboration for power-sharing with the military."

The present judiciary was sworn in under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO), which functioned in place of the country’s suspended constitution when Musharraf designated himself chief executive, and suspended the constitution, the parliament and the national and provincial assemblies following the 1999 bloodless coup.

PCO number one, issued in October 1999, provided that no court would have the power to issue orders against Musharraf or any person exercising powers of jurisdiction under his authority. The decree effectively removed any action of the Musharraf government from judicial oversight.

The judiciary’s independence was further undermined when Musharraf ordered all Supreme Court, Sharia Court, and Provincial High Court justices to take an oath to uphold the PCO that brought the military to power.

No one was available on the government side to comment on the White Paper.