Former judge gives ‘quirky’ examples of judgments and legal briefs
As a fan of literature, former chief justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa says that he tried to bring some poetry and prose into his 56,000 judgments over the past 22 years.
Speaking at the Adab Festival, the former judge read a piece of prose by Anwar Maqsood and said he would be returning to adab.
He started his keynote address by remembering the late Justice (retired) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim. “The vacuum created by Fakhru Bhai’s passing cannot be filled,” he said.
Khosa said that literature or the use of it pleased the heart and mind of a person. He said that literature or its use was not just limited to artists and writers, but it was also used by judges across the world to explain their judgments and decisions. Many judgments quoted Bulleh Shah and Iqbal, he said.
Many great writers, he said, were lawyers while Charles Dickens was a legal apprentice.
“And the plot thickens as many judges like me have studied literature in college,” he explained. “There was a US judge who was elected class poet in college. Even Shakespeare wrote in Henry VI: let’s kill all lawyers.”
Writing a judgment is also an art, according to the former judge.
He spoke at length about the use of literature in judgments in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. Khosa mentioned the power of poetry while speaking of an adoption case in India where the judge had quoted a poem by Nida Fazli. He also cited several examples from Sri Lanka.
Talking about ‘quirky’ judgments, the former judge recited a poem from a judgment in the US which the judges had written about a Chevrolet crashing into a tree. He also mentioned an incident where lawyers submitted a brief in rhyme and how the judges, who didn’t want to be left behind, wrote a poem in response.
Justice Khosa said he used works by Shakespeare, Mario Puzi, Graucho Marx, Montesquieu, George Bernard Shaw, Balzac, Francis Bacon, Hemingway and many others in several judgments including the Yousaf Raza Gillani contempt of court and Panamagate cases.
In the Aasia Bibi judgment, he used King Lear’s famous line: more sinned against than sinning.
“Literature is a catalyst for change. Look at how Dicken’s writing brought about an improvement in legislation, Uncle Tom’s Cabin highlighted slavery and so on,” Khosa said.
He mentioned two of his cases in which he tried to transform normal subjects into literature. The first was the case of a man named Dilbar who had asked a woman to marry him. When she refused, he stabbed her in the heart. He was sentenced to death.
“Ordinarily a judge would start his judgment as Dilbar, appellant, had killed such and such lady and he was sentenced to death by the trial court and hence this appeal before this court,” he explained.
Judge Khosa on the other hand decided to make a play with the word: Dilbar.
“I started my judgment: Dilbar appellant is a lady killer but of a different kind. After failing to win over the heart of his beloved through his amorous pursuits and masculine charms, he reached her heart through the blade of a dagger and for such heartless killing he was sentenced by the trial court to death,” the former judge said.
He said a normal sentence could be transformed into something appealing to a person interested in literature.
The next case, the judge said, was very sensitive. It was about the separation of a Pakistani man and his French wife. After their divorce, the man left France with his child. The ex-wife followed them to Pakistan searching for her boy. The custody case ended up in Khosa’s court and he made the decision in the woman’s favour.
He said that he did this to show how literature could help create an emotional argument in support of a legal argument.