Yousuf Salim has recently been appointed as the first visually impaired judge of Pakistan. This would be a very special moment for differently-abled Pakistanis who are dreaming to achieve their due rights guaranteed under the Constitution of Pakistan.

The credit of this historic moment will go to Honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, who took notice of the case, when the selection committee of Lahore High Court, Lahore, had ignored Salim for being different. The Chief Justice of Pakistan, along with his other initiatives under rule of law campaign, has given new hope to visually impaired people of Pakistan by giving them a fair opportunity to participate in the judicial system and a fair representation in the court of law. This shows that people are now being selected on the basis of their abilities and not their disabilities. The Honourable Chief Justice has passed courageous remarks while deciding the case of Salim that “a person could be a judge even if he is blind, provided he meets all qualifications.’’

Salim is a gold medalist of the Punjab University in LLB (Honors) and had topped the written judiciary exam among 6,500 candidates. He has a very impressive academic record and was among 21 successful candidates.

Blind judges can be found in numerous parts of the word, such as South Africa where Justice Zakeria Mohammed Yacoob had been appointed by Nelson Mandela himself. In USA Judge Richard Conway, Judge Richard Teitelman, Judge David Tatel and Judge Richard Bernstein have been working in the US judicial system for a long time.

In UK, Judge John Lafferty, Judge Gabriel Perez Castellanos in Spain and Judge T.Chakkaravarthy and Judge Brahmananda Sharma in India are well respected and known in their respective countries because of their quality work. Mr.Salim has also enrolled himself in this prestigious club of judicial brains.

Despite the number of blind judges heading courts in different countries, the concept of a person who is deprived of sight sitting in court room, making judgment while being unable to make direct eye contact with lawyers, let alone being able to visually read case facts, may irritate lawyers and litigants for going out–of–the–way for a visually impaired judge’s career. Further, time constraint may be an issue, considering the fact that many case sessions are on a tight schedule. These factors impose a risk of shattering the dreams of blind people in countries where such people are looked down upon them, despite them possibly possessing a firm grip of the legal system than other candidates.

The world is starting to recognise and appreciate the knowledge and cultural diversity blind judges have to offer. Although there are issues regarding the procedure that a blind judge should enact upon, every blind judge has his own unique way of giving judgment. Judge Sharma of India uses an e-speak device connected to a computer, which records and converts the notes made by the reader, into speech. He can also recognise the hundreds of different advocates who enter the courtroom merely by their footsteps, and can recognise a lawyer’s authenticity by telling him to read out the plaint and attached documents.

Judge Richard Bernstein of America internalises the cases word-by word via memory. He also asks the reader to point out certain things, read footnotes, to look at the legislative record. He also has his own chambers, which allows him to frequently communicate with law clerks instead of writing out emails or long memos.

Lahore High Court on administrative and Bar Associations on cooperative sides have to make special arrangements for a visually impaired judge like Salim. While attending the court, the Bar Associations have to improve their assistance level in the court management and court administration.

The Bar associations should not undermine the decorum of this court. Instead special training sessions for lawyers to understand the new procedural and supportive initiatives of this court being court officers should be held.

Being his trainer in Punjab Judicial Academy, Lahore and an ex -judicial officer, I can predict that he would be a role model for other youngsters. We have to facilitate him so the others can select this profession as a career.

His services should be utilised in adjudicating court cases. As a starting point, Salim should work under the supervision of his seniors. He requires in-service judicial education, a safe, friendly and conducive environment for working in the court. Mr. Yousaf Salim should be well equipped with modern techniques, electronic devices, special library, software (Judicial Kit) for better court management and administration including trained staff. He may incorporate the above methods and devices into his chambers when called upon in court.

 

The writer is a former judge, Attorney at law, Founding President of Centre for Rule of Law Islamabad-Pakistan-CROLIP.

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