Malik Nasir Mahmood Aslam looks at an encouraging
Female Judges of Supreme Court – In first of its type two female judges are now placed at the Supreme Court (SC), the apex adjudicating institution of the country that bodes well for the country. The second female judge of the SC to take the oath of office is Justice Mussarat Hilali who till recently served as the Chief Justice of Peshawar High Court. After Justice Hilali’s elevation, the number of top court judges has increased to 16 out of a total sanctioned strength of 17. It is reported that Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP) will meet in September or October to fill the remaining vacant slot. The development took place a day after the Parlia¬men¬tary Committee on Judges’ Appointments unanimously agreed to the approval accorded for her appointment by the Judicial Commission of Pakistan. Earlier in January of last year Justice Ayesha Malik became the first-ever female judge to serve in the apex court. The JCP had elevated three judges to the apex court at its last meeting in October. That session saw a deadlock over a decision to ignore the seniority principle in picking judges for the Supreme Court. The bar has also been clamouring for adherence to the seniority principle since elevating junior judges demoralises other judges of high courts and affects their work. It was pointed out that the practice goes against the principle of seniority as laid down in the Al Jehad case or the judges’ case.
Justice Hilali was sworn in as the first female chief justice of the Peshawar High Court in April this year after the superannuation of Justice Qaiser Rashid Khan. Following this development, she also became the second female judge to become the chief justice of a high court in Pakistan after Justice Tahira Safdar, the chief justice of the Balochistan High Court from September 2018 to October 2019.
Hailing from Peshawar, Justice Hilali received her law degree from Khyber Law College, University of Peshawar and was enrolled as an advocate of district courts in 1983. She was enrolled as an advocate of the high court in 1988 and that of the Supreme Court in 2006.
Justice Hilali has earned several distinctions in her career — first as a civil society activist and member of the bar and then her elevation to the bench. Known as an outspoken human rights activist, she remained office-bearer of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and also headed its KP chapter on different occasions. Justice Hilali was an active member of the Peshawar High Court (PHC) Bar Association and served as its first female secretary, vice president and general secretary. She was also twice elected as an executive member of the Supreme Court Bar Association for 2007-8 and 2008-9. She served as the first woman additional advocate general from November 2001 to March 2004 and as chairperson of the KP Environmental Protection Tribunal as well.
Justice Hilali was also the first provincial ombudsperson appointed in 2010 under the Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2010. She was elevated to the bench as an additional judge in March 2013 and was confirmed as a judge of the high court in March 2014. Additionally, Justice Hilali remained a focal member of the 2007 Lawyers’ Movement — started after a reference was filed against then-CJP Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry — during which she courageously stood alongside the rest of the male-majority legal fraternity. During that movement, one of her legs got fractured when police raided her residence for arresting her. Justice Mussarat Hilali had taken a number of measures after taking oath as PHC CJ in April this year to reform the judicial system in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by constituting special benches for commercial and taxation disputes, criminal matters, service matters and civil, rent and family cases. During a surprise visit to the District Courts in Peshawar, she had ordered judicial officers to follow court timings and desist from using social media and WhatsApp groups during business hours.
Fortunately, the appointment of Justice Hilali was without any controversy, unlike the elevation of Justice Ayesha Malik that badly divided the legal fraternity of the country. It is pertinent to mention here that Justice Malik was fourth in the seniority of the LHC judges and the bar councils and associations had opposed her elevation to the Supreme Court for ignoring the principle of seniority.
In the end the Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP) approved Justice Malik for elevation by a majority of five to four during a heated session that had lasted nearly three-and-a-half hours. The lack of consensus over the appointment of Justice Ayesha Malik was considered a low point for the apex judicial institution of the country that left a bitter aftermath. The matters reached the point whereby the lawyers resorted to protest accusing the apex court of indulging in favouritism in the appointment of superior court judges and harming its image. The Weekender