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Friday, April 25, 2008

PML-N being cornered by Zardari party on judges
Published: Friday, 25 April, 2008, 03:16 AM Doha Time
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), which has so far been a great champion of the restoration of the judiciary controversially sacked by President General (retired) Pervez Musharraf, through parliament, is considering the option of a Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry-specific constitutional amendment, slashing his tenure from June 2013 to 2010, it transpires.Though no decision has been taken by the party leadership as yet on this highly controversial issue, there are certain leaders of Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N arguing that this compromise solution is being deliberated upon to save its ruling coalition with Asif Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).The PPP leadership is adamant that it would not allow Chaudhry to continue till June 2013.The PML-N finds itself in a tight corner as it is being made to concede to slashing the tenure of the deposed chief justice in exchange for the PPP’s willingness to table the resolution in the National Assembly for the restoration of the deposed judges to their November 2, 2007 position, the day before Musharraf sacked 60 judges.Interestingly, tenures of judges of the superior judiciary are not fixed either in Britain or India whereas in the US the judges of the Supreme Court and those of the federal courts are appointed for life.However, there is a tradition in the US where superior judiciary judges get voluntary retirement when they reach the age of 70-75.If finally approved and agreed between the two parties, the PML-N might consider this formula a “compromise” to achieve the greater goal of the judges’ restoration and to save the ruling coalition from possible demise.However, it is believed that such a solution might not be acceptable to the lawyers’ fraternity and the civil society, which had struggled relentlessly after March 9, 2007 for the cause of the independence of the judiciary.While Zardari is also facing a great fall in his overall popularity among these quarters after dithering on his commitment to restore the judges within 30 days of the formation of the federal government, there is a realisation within the PML-N that the fate of Sharif and his party could also be no different if such a compromise solution is reached. Perhaps, it would be more damaging in the case of PML-N.A party source believed that getting the PML-N to back off from its clear stance on the judges’ issue might be a trap set by the PPP to politically damage Sharif’s party, which has so far been attaining more and more popularity for speaking out on the judges’ issue. The PML-N was the only political party which had contested the February elections on the slogan of getting the deposed judges restored.As in the world’s leading democracies, Pakistan has traditionally been setting the maximum age limit for the retirement of the superior judiciary judges without fixing any tenure for the chief justices of the Supreme Court or high courts.However, it was only during the government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto when, in 1976, a constitutional amendment was passed to fix the tenure of the high court chief justices to four years and that of the chief justice of Pakistan to five years.These constitutional amendments were undone by the martial law of General Ziaul Haq, who reverted to the system of getting the judges, including the chief justices, retired on their set age of retirement.The retirement age for high court judges remained 62 years whereas in the case of the Supreme Court it has been 65. In his legal framework order, Musharraf had enhanced the retirement age of Supreme Court judges to 68 and that of the high court judges to 65 but the 17th Constitutional Amendment reverted to the original retirement age.In a strange coincidence, it is almost after 32 years of not so appreciable 6th Amendment of Zulfikar that his son-in-law, Zardari, is determined to introduce a person-specific constitutional amendment targeting Chaudhry. — Internews

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