HRCP probe finds manipulation, politicization of judiciary in AJK

Lahore, June 10, 2010: The recent controversy over the appointment of judges to the superior courts of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) has exposed constant manipulation of the judiciary by the executive and the consequent politicization of the judiciary in AJK, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has said.

Launching the report of an HRCP fact-finding mission into the upheaval in the AJK judiciary, on Thursday, the Commission said that political interference must end in order to strengthen the justice system in AJK. The report can be accessed at: http://www.hrcp-web.org/pdf/AJK_Report.pdf

The judicial crisis brewing in AJK for the last several years had started with the appointment of Justice Reaz Akhtar Chaudhry as Chief Justice of the AJK Supreme Court in October 2006. Justice Chaudhry had merely spent three weeks as judge of the apex court when he was made the AJK chief Justice, superseding a more senior judge, Justice Manzoor Hussain Gillani.

A number of petitions were filed in the AJK High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan by lawyers and members of AJK superior judiciary, challenging appointment of judges to superior courts in AJK. References were submitted to the AJK Supreme Judicial Council against Chief Justice Chaudhry and Justice Gillani. Both the judges resigned in May 2010.

Shortly before the resignations, the polarization had reached the point that lawyers protesting against one of the judges had accused the judge of blasphemy based on a sentence he had written in one of his judgments. The AJK Supreme Judicial Council had also concluded that blasphemy had been committed and had cited it as one of the grounds for removal of the judge in question. HRCP said that it was astonished by the charge and added that “such dangerous allegations against judges can become a terrifying trend if not effectively discouraged… There can be no independence for the judiciary if judges are not protected against sanctions for expressing themselves through their judgments.”

The HRCP report added that the two judges’ “departure will not remove the root causes of tension within the political and judicial systems of AJK. These must be addressed so that the citizens of AJK can enjoy basic human rights, build a democratic political system and strengthen the rule of law.”

HRCP added that it is critical that all appointments and promotions of judges of the superior courts in AJK are made on merit, through a proper consultative process and without capricious interference from the executive authorities established through the constitutional framework of AJK.

HRCP recommended that a serving judge should not head the AJK Election Commission, which should be made a permanent and autonomous body. HRCP added that the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner should be made in consultation with the AJK prime minister, leader of the opposition and chief justice of AJK Supreme Court, in order to remove serious doubts cast on the election process.
HRCP emphasised an enhanced role of the civil society of Pakistan and AJK, in particular bar associations, to monitor general elections of AJK. HRCP said that the powers shared between the authorities in AJK and the AJK Council, headed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, should be rationalized on democratic principles, notwithstanding the peculiar status of AJK.

The HRCP mission concluded, “[i]nterference in the appointment of judges in AJK has not ended [even though the two SC judges have resigned]. Lawyers in AJK have ended their protests but surely the issue was not about the appointment of one individual but graver issues are at stake in AJK. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan can only hope that institutional changes rather than the change of a few faces will be adopted as a policy in AJK and by the Government of Pakistan.”

Asma Jahangir Chairperson

I. A. Rehman Secretary-General