ISLAMABAD - Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on Thursday said judiciary was the most important organ of the state in a democratic setup.

“In any democratic setup, judiciary stands at the higher pedestal as compared to the other two organs, that is the executive and the legislature, being the defender of the constitutional supremacy and rule of law”, the chief justice said.

He further noted he was proud to say that despite several impediments, the courts in Pakistan were fully alive to their constitutional responsibilities of safeguarding democracy and the Constitution.

The chief justice was addressing a full court reference held in the honour of senior-most judge of the apex court Justice Mian Shakirullah Jan, who is going to retire after a few days.

The chief justice made it clear that all the state institutions were bound to give due respect to the constitutional norm of independence of judiciary as envisaged in the very preamble of the Constitution.

“Today, the judiciary is the greatest unifying and integrating force in the country; and being fully conversant of its basic duty to protect the rights of citizens as well as institutions against constitutional excesses; it is performing functions purely within the constitutional domain.”

He further said the bar and the bench together could bring major reforms in the legal and judicial system through mutual understanding, liaison and cooperation, which would mitigate the problems like backlog of cases, frivolous and protracted litigation, heavy costs and courts fees, non-appearance of lawyers and witnesses and others. “Their joint endeavours with utmost cooperation can facilitate the judicial institution to perform its due role as envisaged in the Constitution and law”, he added.

“An impartial, independent and accountable judicial sector is crucial to the protection of basic human rights, fair resolution of disputes and the sustainable economic and political development”, the chief justice added.

He observed that Pakistan was passing through a critical phase of its history wherein the daily events of kidnapping for ransom, abduction, target killing, forced disappearances, energy crises, corruption and nepotism had crippled the socio-economic development and shattered the confidence of public in the state functionaries concerned.

“It is the need of the hour that authorities should work hard to rescue the democratic setup from being distorted in the backdrop of these social evils,” he said, adding that they should devise workable mechanisms and adopt high ideals of democracy in order to bring peace and harmony in the country.

The chief Justice expressed the hope that all the state institutions and civil society would join hands for achieving the common goal of transforming Pakistan to a true welfare State by following principles of rule of law, fairness, accountability, transparency and constitutional supremacy. Paying rich tributes to Justice Mian Shakirullah Jan, the chief justice said Justice Jan had rendered great services to the judicial institution through his extraordinary abilities, legal acumen, in-depth understanding of law, patience, wisdom, incorruptibility and impartial judgments. He added that Justice Jan endeavoured to serve the cause of independence of judiciary and rule of law throughout his legal and judicial career.

He was one of the judges who refused to take oath before the Military dictator in 2007 and was made dysfunctional, Chief Justice Iftikhar recalled. After restoration, he said, Justice Jan adorned larger bench rendering the historical verdict in the case of Sindh High Bar Association, which laid to rest the doctrine of necessity and foreclosed the possibility of future military regimes.

Additional attorney general, vice-chairman of Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and Supreme Court Bar Association President also spoke on the occasion.

PBC Vice-Chairman Akhtar Hussain suggested formation of a commission by the Supreme Court for writing letter to the Swiss authorities or holding fresh elections instead of sending another prime minister to home.

He also recommended the government to adopt political restraint showing flexibility for a ‘middle way out’ of the current executive–judiciary standoff and find a way for formation of an interim government and to go for general elections instead of taking a confrontation view.

Expressing his concern over the delay in the appointment of superior courts judges, he said litigants were facing immense hardships due to the delay in the decision of their cases.

“So, I invite your lordships’ kind attention in judicial commission and earnestly request to give kind consideration to the unanimous resolutions passed by the PBC, particularly amending the rules for making process of appointment more transparent and to make it free from criticism”, he added.

Meanwhile, Chief Justice Iftikhar said the present-day judiciary is the one which made a clean break from its past and struck down the unconstitutional order of a sitting usurper on November 3rd, 2007.

Justice Iftikhar stated this on the occasion of a dinner on the eve of retirement of Justice Mian Shakirullah Jan.

“This was indeed the turning point in the Constitutional history of our country as restraining order of November 3rd, 2007 coupled with Parliament’s refusal to endorse unconstitutional action laid a ground work to build upon it the strong and invincible democratic structure,” he said.

This democratic structure duly backed by judicial organ of the country was further strengthened by another landmark judgement pronounced on July 31st, 2009 in which, inter alia, all the judges who took oath under PCO were jettisoned, he added.

Thus, paving the way for an unadulterated democratic polity in the country fully in line with the Constitutional norms and reflecting aspirations of the electorates, CJ said.

Iftikhar further said:“This new dawn of democracy - rule of law based governance wherein the Supreme Court is fully geared up to ensure the fundamental rights as enshrined in the Constitution are made available to the citizens - was made possible by a bold and unprecedented stance taken by my brother judges in the wake of a patently unjust and unconstitutional order of a dictator.”

Additionally, this movement for restoration of Constitutionalism in the country was reinforced by men in black coats, most active media and last but not the least the support from the civil society and broad political divide including the Parliament which passed the historic 18th Amendment and in the process making sure that no unconstitutional act of the usurper was validated, he said.

“Now I hope that all of us, irrespective of our institutional and personal biases, should rise to the occasion and after setting aside our mutual disagreements should earnestly strive to strengthen the Constitutional and political space made available now and build a strong, prosperous and vibrant Pakistan, “he further stated.

The Chief Justice said: “I strongly feel that the message of supremacy of Constitution and rule of law which has been fully imbibed by the judicial organ of the country at every level and the rest of the institutions are also getting strengthened by this transformation. I hope that this new found optimism based upon Constitutional pluralism and fundamental rights to everybody irrespective of cast, colour or religion will redeem us as a successful nation. I assure you that the apex Court of the country will continue pronouncing judgements after judgements by invoking the principle of supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law.”