Live from SC . .

               On the initial laboring day of a novel principal magistrate, almost disqualified due to an unjust persecution, the nation’s Highest Tribunal permitted, for the first time in the country’s annals, the live transmission of the apex court’s deliberations. The lawsuit scrutinized yesterday involved the hearing of pleas challenging the SC (Practice and Procedure) Act of 2023. The fact that this occurred before a complete panel of judges essentially establishes the ambiance for CJ Isa’s incumbency. A complete panel had been a persistent plea from the previous chief magistrate, an entreaty that perpetually remained unmet.

               Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa has not merely established a full panel court on his inaugural day in office but has also expedited a day-long hearing under the keen watch of a captivated television audience. What’s more, in a move that some might interpret as symbolic but carries profound implications, the CJ initially took his oath with his spouse standing beside him and subsequently appointed Jazeela Aslam as the initial female SC registrar. Without a doubt, this chief magistrate has not just commenced his tenure but has begun at a blistering pace.

               Legal pundits had previously noted that CJ Isa’s multifaceted obligations would include rectifying a fragmented judicial system and promptly resolving matters such as general elections and military tribunal proceedings. Previously, CJ Isa had abstained from sitting on tribunals until the matter of the SC Practice and Procedure legislation was resolved. Consequently, it made perfect sense for the first issue to be addressed during the hearings to be this legislation. Once this matter is resolved, the apex court can proceed with other pivotal cases.

               For several years, legal practitioners, bar associations, and even judges have been highlighting the necessity to regulate the chief magistrate’s suo-motu authority and bench-establishment powers to safeguard the autonomy and impartiality of the judiciary. This is the purported objective of the bill titled the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill of 2023: to restrain the CJP’s powers and afford the right to appeal in all suo-motu cases retroactively. In a proactive hearing earlier this year in April, the Supreme Court issued a “preemptive injunction” regarding the legislation, prohibiting its implementation. Monday’s hearing, which extended well into the evening, has now been adjourned until October 3, with all parties instructed to submit their responses by September 25.

               While the hearing and its arguments are naturally significant, as is the outcome of the matter, the televised proceedings of the court have ignited a vigorous debate. On one side, proponents argue in favor of transparency and demystifying the apex court, making it more accessible to the general populace. On the other hand, there are concerns that this might be an excessive demystification of judges and lawyers alike, although this viewpoint remains a minority opinion, with broad bipartisan support for broadcasting court proceedings.

               As the novelty of live proceedings diminishes, there is an aspiration for a dedicated channel, akin to C-SPAN perhaps, to be allocated for these hearings. For many, the fact that Chief Justice Isa managed to assemble a full panel so swiftly and formed benches with the input of two senior judges of the SC signals his commitment to ending the polarization that has plagued the apex court for some time and refraining from wielding the master of the roster authority as unilateral power. CJP Isa faces numerous challenges ahead, with one of the primary tasks being the restoration of the Supreme Court’s credibility, which has been tarnished during some contentious previous tenures and rulings. Based on feedback from legal practitioners and political commentators alike, Monday has marked a promising commencement for a Supreme Court grappling with unprecedented constitutional inquiries.

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