ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Pakistan’s Supreme Court proceedings were broadcast live on state television on Monday, providing an unprecedented glimpse into the inner workings of an institution historically influential in the country’s politics.
This development coincides with the start of the tenure of the new Chief Justice, Qazi Faez Isa, the highest-ranking judge in Pakistan. Isa, 64, took his oath as chief justice after the retirement of his predecessor, Justice Umar Ata Bandial, making his first official act as chief justice the decision to allow live broadcasts of court proceedings.
“It is a majority consensus decision to telecast live,” stated Isa at the outset of the proceedings, which were aired without interruption on Pakistan Television, the state-run broadcaster. The court had blocked previous attempts to televise proceedings.
The proceedings drew additional interest due to the nature of the case, which concerns legislation limiting the chief justice’s discretion to directly address legal matters, known as suo moto action, and his authority to assign cases to fellow judges. This legislation pitted the outgoing coalition government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif against Isa’s predecessor.
Supreme Court judges retire automatically upon reaching the age of 65, and the next most senior judge ascends to the position of chief justice with no predetermined tenure.
Isa’s elevation has captured nationwide attention, given his reputation as a bold judge known for hard-hitting judgments criticizing the military’s role in politics. The Pakistani military has exerted substantial influence over the country’s politics for most of its 76-year history, often intervening to shape the fate of civilian governments. The judiciary has historically sanctioned military rule and facilitated the removal of elected leaders.
Political parties and analysts contend that army generals seek to consolidate their influence over the country’s governance under a caretaker government led by Prime Minister Anwar ul Haq Kakar, a member of a pro-military party.
Isa has delivered several landmark judgments during his judicial career, including a 2019 ruling that raised serious questions about the military and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency’s involvement in brokering a deal between Islamists and the government at the time.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who had close ties to the then ISI chief, Faiz Hameed, attempted to have Isa removed from the bench on charges of financial impropriety in 2018. However, these charges were dismissed in 2019 due to a lack of evidence, as determined by his fellow judges.