ISLAMABAD - Outgoing Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry Wednesday said if the executive fails to fulfil its duty and fundamental rights are threatened due to lapses on its part, the judiciary has a duty to take appropriate action.

Addressing a Full Court Reference held in his honour on the eve of his retirement, Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry stressed that the Supreme Court must continue taking notice of pressing issues in a situation where fundamental rights, particularly the right to life, are being threatened on a daily basis.

The outgoing CJP highlighted the key cases taken up during his tenure and courts’ contribution to democracy and constitutionalism in the country. He particularly stressed on the role of lawyers, judges and civil society in the restoration of judiciary and their contribution to a democratic order in the country. “Now, no state functionary can dare support or provide protection to the unconstitutional actions of a dictator in future,” he said.

The first and foremost duty of the executive is to ensure adherence to rule of law in the country, the CJP said. “It is often stated that the judiciary must enforce the constitution, but I would say it is mandated to protect the public against the violation of their fundamental rights, abuse of power and arbitrariness.”

He said that in order to ensure the fundamental rights of the people, the court has not shied away from exercising suo moto jurisdiction where the affected people are too weak and indigent or the perpetrators are too powerful and no other agency can lay hands on them.

“In cases, which have been raised on grounds of public interest, we have often been criticised for adjudicating on policy matters which fall in the domain of the executive. What we have in fact endeavoured to do is to ensure that the fundamental rights of citizens are not violated by policies that are made without taking into account overriding principles such as fairness and transparency,” CJ Chaudhry said.

About the SC Human Rights Cell, which is established during his era, Justice Iftikhar said the HR cell had provided the common man with unprecedented access to the highest echelon of justice in the land. The HR Cell has, in fact, processed thousands of complaints and the court also took many suo moto cases. Not all of these cases have been high-profile, but these cases have ensured that justice is within the reach of the man on the street.

In the past few years the judiciary has been trying to improve the administration of justice to meet the emerging challenges, the outgoing chief justice said. “I have every confidence that the Supreme Court under the leadership of Tassaduq Hussain Jillani and the future chief justices will continue to support and enhance the work and functionality of the Human Rights Cell,” Iftikhar Chaudhry remarked.

“Public administration of our country is far from perfect. An unfortunate truth about our country is that we are replete with regulation with little emphasis on implementation. A large number of voluminous rules and regulations exist to protect the life, liberty and property of the people of Pakistan. It seems, however, that there is apathy with regards to implementation of these regulations. The state is mandated to ensure that these laws, rules and regulations are enforced,” the outgoing CJP observed.

CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry said that the apex court had also passed certain directions in the matter of rising militancy in the province of Balochistan but, unfortunately, its orders were not implemented in letter and spirit. In cases of missing persons too the SC issued repeated notices but the executive functionaries often remained non-compliant, he further regretted.

Justice Chaudhry urged the judges not to let this non-compliance deter them in their pursuit of justice. He said: “In order to restore peace and normalcy in the country, every single individual, including the judges, lawyers, law officers, investigating and prosecuting agencies and litigants, are bound to play their role. Without peace, there cannot be economic development and progress.”

The outgoing CJP believed that the divide between the haves and have-nots is increasing day by day, with the executive being unable to curb this growing disparity. “Until we can tackle the ever-growing cancer of corruption, the rich will keep getting richer and the poor poorer,” he added. He further said that Supreme Court has recently been working to embed the principles of transparency, accountability and anti-corruption in the national framework and it has actively pursued the public interest in a number of cases including the Steel Mills case in 2006.

Justice retired Iftikhar urged that the courts’ focus on white collar crime must continue. “White collar crime is a particularly malevolent type of crime. Its effects are wide-ranging and it affects the public at large because of the billions that are sapped from the national exchequer. We have adjudicated on enormous banking scams, the Haj corruption scandal, the LNG case and most recently the NICL case to attempt to retrieve the looted money of the public.”

It is also to mention that only one TV channel (Geo) was allowed to cover the farewell speech and function, must to the disdain of the other channels which kept on rueing the move as unjust.