Judicial crisis brewing in Azad Kashmir
11 April 2007
Muzaffarabad: A legal row with a difference seems to be brewing in Azad Kashmir amid the judicial crisis raging in Pakistan over the suspension of the chief justice. While lawyers and political activists in Pakistan have taken to streets for more than a month after the presidential action against the chief justice, the row in Azad Kashmir revolves around the appointment of the territory’s top judge - one common factor in both issues being controversial advice given by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. Subdued protests were voiced over the promotion of Justice Mohammad Reaz Akhtar Chaudhry as the chief justice of the Azad Kashmir Supreme Court by superseding the most senior judge of the same court immediately after it was ordered in late October and the issue later appeared to have been forgotten after an abortive opposition move for a debate in the legislative assembly. But some senior lawyers, apparently encouraged by happenings in Pakistan, revived the issue by going to court late last month to challenge Justice Chaudhry's appointment, made less than a month after his elevation to the Supreme Court from the High Court chief justiceship, and the supersession of the most senior hopeful, Justice Manzoor Hussain Gilani. However, the effort received a rare rebuff from the Supreme Court itself when one judge of the court issued a contempt of court notice to the registrar of the Azad Kashmir High Court for entertaining a writ petition of eight lawyers challenging Justice Chaudhry's appointment and later ordering that no such petition be entertained in the future. Despite general similarities about the functioning of superior courts in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir, there is a difference in the realm of writ jurisdiction. While the Pakistani constitution allows original jurisdiction to the Supreme Court to consider questions of public importance regarding enforcement of fundamental rights, the Azad Kashmir Interim Constitution Act of 1974 gives such jurisdiction only to the High Court and appellate jurisdiction to the Supreme Court. That is why the writ petition was filed before the Azad Kashmir High Court, Sardar Karam Dad Khan, general secretary of the Supreme Court Bar Association and one of the eight petitioners, told Dawn. Karam Dad Khan said the petitioners’ immediate aim was to seek a review of the Supreme Court’s restraining order, but he confirmed on Wednesday they had not been able until now to get a copy of the court order so they could file a review petition. The territory's legal community seemed very upset by what some lawyers called a raid on the high court premises on March 28 by more than 100 policemen, some carrying handcuffs, before a court official took the petition record to the Supreme Court. But other legal sources said developments in Pakistan could encourage Azad Kashmir lawyers to imitate their Pakistani colleagues, though many of them are affiliated to the ruling party. AZIZ FACTOR Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz’s advice is a factor in both the situations. President Pervez Musharraf has repeatedly said it was on the prime minister’s advice that he sent a reference to the Supreme Judicial Council against Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. The Azad Kashmir chief justice was appointed by the region’s president on the advice of the Pakistani prime minister in his capacity as chairman of the Azad Kashmir Council, the upper house, forcing Justice Gilani to protest by going on a six-month leave, which is to expire on April 25.