Proceedings from Pakistan’s Supreme Court were broadcast live yesterday by state television for the first time, giving an unprecedented view into the workings of an institution that has historically had a huge impact on the country’s politics.
The move marks the beginning of the tenure of new Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa as Pakistan’s top judge.
Isa, 64, was sworn in as chief justice on Sunday after he became the most senior judge of the court on the retirement of his predecessor Justice Umar Ata Bandial. Isa’s first move as the top judge was to open proceedings for live broadcast.
“It is a majority consensus decision to telecast live,” Isa said at the start of proceedings shown live by state-run broadcaster Pakistan Television. Previous attempts to broadcast proceedings live had been blocked by the court.
The broadcast was shown uninterrupted by all major Pakistani channels.
Adding to the interest of the proceedings was the nature of the case, which pertains to legislation that curtails the discretion of the chief justice to take up any legal matter directly, commonly known as suo moto action, and his powers to entrust cases to his fellow judges.
The legislation passed by parliament earlier this year had pit the outgoing coalition government of prime minister Shehbaz Sharif with Isa’s predecessor.
Supreme Court judges retire automatically upon reaching the age of 65, and the next most senior judge is elevated as the chief justice. There is no set tenure for a chief justice.
Isa’s elevation has garnered nationwide interest given his reputation as a maverick judge and his hard-hitting judgements criticising the role of the country’s powerful military in politics.
The military has ruled Pakistan for over three decades of its 76-year history, and wields enormous influence in politics, including making and breaking civilian governments. The judiciary has historically legalised military rule and, critics say, helped the country’s generals remove elected leaders.
Isa has given several landmark judgements during his judicial career, including a 2019 ruling that posed scathing questions about the role of the military and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency in brokering a deal between Islamists and the then government.
Former prime minister Imran Khan, who was close to the then chief of the ISI Faiz Hameed, attempted to have Isa removed as a judge on charges of financial impropriety in 2018.