Thursday, April 30, 2015

Judicial independence in Pakistan -- a possible straw in the wind?

While attention has understandably focused on the judicial independence and separation of powers issues raised by the military courts authorized under the 21st amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, another such issue has arisen in an unrelated local context. According to this report in Dawn, a two-judge bench of the Peshawar High Court has invalidated a regulation permitting the use of "executive magistrates" in the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA). This arrangement authorized PATA deputy and assistant commissioners to exercise judicial powers even though they are executive officials.
The executive magistracy, which was abolished in the entire country in 2001 by the then military government of Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf by amending the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), was revived in Malakand Division under section 5(5) and section 7 (4) of the NAR [Nizam-i-Adl Regulation 2009], which provided judicial powers to executive officers who were not under the administrative control of the Peshawar High Court.
This ruling seems of interest as an indicator of the salience of judicial independence in Pakistani constitutional law. Of course, it is one thing for a court to invalidate a mere regulation and quite another to hold a constitutional amendment unconstitutional (as the Supreme Court would have to do to overturn the latest generation of nationwide military courts with jurisdiction over civilians), but to the extent that this ruling from Peshawar reflects the overall orientation of the Pakistani judiciary, it may be a straw in the wind.

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