Two Courts, Why Not?

Published on: May 19, 2008

As the judicial imbroglio thickens the air between two coalition partners, the speculative analyses and predictions keep creeping through the op-ed columns and current affairs talk shows on umpteen TV channels in Pakistan. Whatever the analysts say, however serenity and reason PPP leadership tries to bring to the negotiating table, the fact remains that it’s not the dearth of solutions that is leading to uncertainty in reinstatement of judges, its lack of political commitment to do so. The solutions that have came up so far range from an executive order to a constitutional amendment or the act of Parliament. Considering the significant moves on the part of political movers and shakers, it is becoming all the more necessary to reach an upshot as soon as possible. The more time is spent on proving that every proposed way out has more cons than pros, the easier it would be for the anti democratic forces to draw the conclusion that no solution is possible for this political riddle.
The recent proposal, which was instantly denied by the Prime Minister, was that of establishment of two supreme courts. The idea perceptibly seems to be mala fide and an attempt to appease the lawyer / civil society pressure and placate a presidency that is shamelessly being lactated by the world powers. But at the same time, it deserves a serious thinking and analysis. The two Supreme Courts would mean a judicial system that allows the power of constitutional review to concentrate within a single judicial body. This proposal has a history of being in force in various countries of Western Europe alongside new democracies of Eastern Europe; and has displayed a widely accepted version of constitutional protection and control.
The presence of Constitutional courts gives rise to the anomalies of overlapping jurisdiction of Federal Constitutional Court and the supreme civil court, their absence critically contradicts with the principles of sovereignty of parliament and judicial review especially in democracies like Pakistan and India whose constitution remains a major source of this paradox. In India, where no Constitutional Court exists, the constitution has successfully fought back to be the supreme law of the land; in Pakistan, it still is a political instrument that every regime uses to consolidate its power. This fundamental difference in political cultures of both the countries makes them incomparable as far as judicial system is concerned. The emerging democracies in the European world, on the other hand, might offer an attractive judicial package to be replicated here in the backdrop of fierce battle between the state and the judiciary in Pakistan over last one year – a case much similar to postwar Germany when Bundesverfassungsgericht (Federal Constitutional Court) was established.
The German Constitutional Court had to encounter five branches of specialized courts already well established in the pre-Natzi tradition of German judiciary. The specialized courts had to overcome the failure of their immediate past, whereas, the Constitutional Court was offered a considerable chance of success by the climate of postwar reform. If in Pakistan, the existing Supreme Court takes on the jurisdiction of civil, criminal and administrative cases and a new Federal Constitutional Court is established with the mandate of constitutional interpretation, it is expected to correspond well with the democratic tradition of separation of power and centrality of constitution.
It should, however, be kept in mind that developing a commonly accepted model of cohabitation at the supreme judicial level will be extremely difficult and would require stronger political commitment from parliament, the existing Supreme Court as well as from other power players. The answer to fundamental question of distribution of judicial power between the two courts would largely depend on the intent of establishment of such bi-faceted judicial system that divorces American system of diffused judicial review. If the sole objective is to keep one single individual from heading the apex constitutional court, and limiting his power to civil and criminal suits, the new system may lack vision and design to sustain and might not produce popularly desired results.
The apprehensions of some experts, as reported in media over last few days, about the establishment of Constitutional Court in Pakistan weigh much lesser compared to the positives of it. If established on the following lines, the system can, by design, respond to most of the apprehensions:
1. The Federal Constitutional Court (FCC) should be structurally independent with respect to the Executive Branch and to the Supreme Court
2. The FCC should be mandated to develop the concept of direct applicability of the Constitution (including its guarantees of fundamental rights) and to impose that concept on other segments of the judicial branch.
3. Procedures of the constitutional complaints should be such designed that they should extend the applicability of complaints to all the situation involving conflicts with fundamental rights of individual liberty
4. The FCC, while preserving the last word in the wake of a controversy, should not claim a monopoly over application of the Constitution but, rather, should act as a coordinator of that process.
5. The FCC should be vested with the competence to review ordinary statutes and other legal regulations as well as to annul them in case of unconstitutionality or nonconformity with any international instrument to which Pakistan is a party. Such decisions of the FCC should be universally binding i.e., also binding on all other courts, including Supreme Court.
6. Each court (Higher and Supreme) while resolving an individual case should consider whether the statutory provisions based on which the judgment will be give, are in conformity of the constitution or not. In case of a doubt expressed by the complainant or the judge herself about the constitutionality of such provision, the judge should refer that issue to the FCC as a legal question. The decision of FCC should be binding on the other courts to be applied to the case(s).
7. The FCC’s composition should be such that all the provinces and other federating units are equally represented.
While smoothening public opinion on any set of judicial solutions, we need to keep in mind that present crisis has a hidden opportunity – the opportunity of making our judicial system more relevant to a parliamentary democracy and constitutionalism. Change is sometimes uneasy, but it surely bears the fruit of development. And the key to change is . . . let go of fear!