Nirupama Subramanian

Landmark Supreme Court verdict a blow to Musharraf

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan made history on Friday by reversing the decision of a military ruler for the first time in 60 years when it threw out President Pervez Musharraf’s reference against Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary and reinstated the apex judge.

The legal community hailed it as a “landmark verdict” that heralded the “birth of a new Pakistan”.

A presidential spokesman said that the “President respects the decision of the Supreme Court”. Major General Rashid Qureshi said President Musharraf “had stated earlier that any judgement the Supreme Court arrives at will be honoured respected and adhered to”.

In a majority verdict of 10 to 3, the full court of 13 judges set aside the March 9 presidential reference against Mr. Chaudhary, and unanimously ruled that presidential order of the same day making him non-functional was “illegal”.

“As a further consequence thereof, the petitioner Chief Justice of Pakistan shall be deemed to be holding the said office and shall always be deemed to have been so holding the same,” the order stated. The court also unanimously set aside as illegal another restraint order of March 9, by the Supreme Judicial Council, the oversight panel to which the president forwarded the reference.

Unanimously again, it ruled that a March 15 presidential order sending the judge on compulsory leave was ultra vires.

Also set aside by the court was the appointment of the acting chief justice on March 9, as made “without lawful authority”. However, the court ruled that this would not invalidate the working of the Supreme Court or the discharge of legal and constitutional obligations by the acting chief justice during the period in question.

The full court also ruled that the petition by the Chief Justice was maintainable.

Justice Khalil ur Rehman Ramday, who presided over the full court, read out the short order a few minutes after 4 p.m. to a courtroom packed to capacity with lawyers, journalists and members of the public.

The judges took more than five hours to reassemble after they adjourned for deliberations following closing arguments in the morning by Aitzaz Ahsan, lead counsel for Mr. Chaudhary.

Pin-drop silence

Following a few seconds of pin-drop silence as the verdict sank in and the judges departed, Court Room 1 broke out in thunderous applause and slogans of “Go Musharraf, Go.”

Making a brief comment, Mr. Ahsan said the judgement was “big blow to the Musharraf regime”, and a “good omen” that would have “a positive impact” for strengthening of the judiciary and other institutions in the country.

“We have seen the birth of a new Supreme Court today, the birth of a new Pakistan,” said Munir A Malik, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association who led a full-throated agitation of the legal community against the reference.

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