Friday, March 21, 2008

Days of martial law over, Iftikhar tells lawyers

(Courtesy DAWN)

LAHORE, March 20: Deposed Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry said on Thursday there was no room now for imposition of martial law and abrogation of the Constitution in the country.

Addressing the Lahore Bar Association by telephone ahead of a weekly protest rally, he said the judiciary had been under pressure since the inception of Pakistan.“But now things have changed drastically because people have rejected the dictatorship and supported independent judges,” he said.

The barroom echoed with slogans in favour of the deposed chief justice and against President Pervez Musharraf. Justice Chaudhry said the Supreme Court’s seven-member bench verdict against the imposition of emergency and PCO still held the ground.“A decision violative of the Constitution, neither has constitutional and legal significance nor required a fiat for setting it aside. It should be ignored completely,” he said.“The SC in its decision had restrained superior court judges from taking the oath under the PCO. Therefore, the judges who took the oath under the PCO on Nov 3 could not undo the verdict of the seven-members bench against the Nov 3 emergency,” he added.

He said the people of Pakistan had given their verdict on Feb 18 in favour of the supremacy of the Constitution, making it obligatory for the political leadership to respect their mandate. “Only the parliament, the supreme body, has the power to amend the Constitution with a two-thirds majority but it also could not disturb the Islamic provisions and basic structure of the Constitution,” the chief justice said.

Justice Iftikhar said the parliament should evolve a system of maintaing a balance among various state institutions. He said it should be ensured that the executive followed directives of the legislature and the judiciary in letter and spirit. Justice Chaudhry said that under Article 199 of the Constitution it was the duty of the executive to assist the SC in getting its orders implemented. But regretfully, the executive did not act upon the Supreme Court’s Nov 3 order and surrendered before an individual.

Defending his decision of not taking oath under the PCO, the deposed chief justice said: “We (the judges) could not become part of a process where the sacred book (Constitution) is trampled upon under boots of the army, by virtue of our oath of allegiance to the Constitution.”

He said he would have betrayed the people, who cared for him in the hour of need, had he involved himself in any way with the subversion of the Constitution.“No one is above the law. Nations who do not respect their constitutions are wiped of the world map,” he added.

He paid tribute to his colleagues, who declined to take oath under the PCO on Nov 3 and said that they had remained true to their allegiance to the Constitution. He said all extra-constitutional steps taken on Nov 3 were meant to perpetuate the illegitimate rule of an individual.

Justice Iftikhar said the country stood at a critical juncture and the new political leadership needed to handle the situation prudently. He lauded the civil society, students, doctors and people from different walks of life for supporting the lawyers’ movement.

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