Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Slew of charges against sacked CJP

Slew of charges against sacked Chief Justice

Nirupama Subramanian

Musharraf sends complaint to judicial forum

— PHOTO: AFP

Chief Justice Ifthikar Mohammed Chaudhary taking the oath of office in Islamabad in this June 30, 2005, file photo.

ISLAMABAD: In a move with potentially far-reaching political implications, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on Friday dismissed Chief Justice Ifthikar Mohammed Chaudhary on charges of misuse of authority and misconduct.

Justice Javed Iqbal was sworn in as acting Chief Justice after Gen. Musharraf filed a "reference" or complaint against Mr. Chaudhary in the Supreme Judicial Council, the country's highest judicial panel.

Gen. Musharraf summoned the Chief Justice to his office in Rawalpindi in the morning and informed him of the charges against him and his removal.

Among the charges against the Chief Justice are abuse of his authority, showing undue favours to his son, discrepancies between verbal and written decisions, undignified conduct including rude behaviour towards lawyers and an unseemly insistence on protocol.

It is not clear if corruption was among the charges.

An "open letter" to the Chief Justice a few days ago from a prominent lawyer who is close to the ruling dispensation, making several accusations against Mr. Chaudhary seemed to forewarn of his imminent removal.

The charges contained in the presidential reference are similar to those in the letter.

This is the first time in Pakistan's judicial history that a Chief Justice has been removed and hauled up before the Supreme Judicial Council. Mr. Chaudhary's term was to run until 2014.

With Mr. Chaudhary gaining a reputation for being an "activist" judge since his appointment in 2005, there is speculation that his removal could be linked to his apparent "independence".

After the sacking, several retired judges aired the opinion that the President was not empowered to remove the Chief Justice or any judge before the decision of the Supreme Judicial Council on the reference before it.

The usual practice is to swear in the next senior-most judge, but Justice Javed Iqbal was second in line.

Legal experts were divided on whether the senior-most judge, Justice Rana Bhagwandass, could not officiate as Chief Justice as he is a non-Muslim. The duties of the Chief Justice include presiding over the Shariat court.

Some legal experts argued there was no explicit bar on a non-Muslim becoming Chief Justice, and that he could have nominated another judge for Shariat court duties.

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