Chief justices in Pakistan hold the unenviable job of keeping politicians, governments, other organs of state and big business in check but when they do so they can become overnight celebrities as the average Pakistani yearns for exactly that kind of justice. Few people would argue that the 25th Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar, is a household name. As he retires on January 17, SAMAA Digital takes a look back at how he chose to spend his 747-day tenure as the country’s top judge.
He was appointed a judge of the Lahore High Court on May 22, 1998 and elevated to a Supreme Court judge on February 11, 2010. He took oath as the chief justice of Pakistan on December 31, 2016.
On Justice Nisar’s last day as the country’s top judge, SAMAA Digital takes a look at some of the cases he will be remembered for.
In a landmark ruling, Justice Nisar headed a bench that ordered all private schools in the country to reduce their fees by 20% if they had been charging more than the permitted 5% yearly increase. The judges ordered schools to return half of the fees charged in advance for the summer vacations.
Schools had been increasing their fees exponentially, causing parents endless worries.
Justice Nisar came down hard on mineral water companies using the country’s groundwater and paying next to nothing. The truth is that these companies should be shut down, he had observed during a hearing. He told the companies to close their factories if they didn’t want to pay for the water, after they argued that the Supreme Court was setting the price of groundwater too high.
The unregulated drawing of groundwater and subsequent release of untreated wastewater has severely affected Pakistan’s water resources.
And perhaps his most publicised focus was the Supreme Court’s Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dam Fund. In July 2018 he ordered the government to speed up the construction of the dams and set up the fund. He has urged the public to donate, going as far as the UK to raise funds and he ordered many people and companies to deposit fines imposed on them by the Supreme Court.
One of the most important cases decided during Justice Nisar’s tenure was that of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy after being in jail for eight years. Justice Nisar headed the three-member special appeal bench, which also comprised Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, that acquitted Aasia Bibi. “It is to be noted that Islam, as stipulated in Holy Book Quran, teaches us, amongst many other virtues, to live in peace and harmony, with compassion and love to our other fellow human beings. It is, however, to be kept in mind that unless proven guilty, through a fair trial, as provided for in the Constitution and the law, every person is considered innocent, irrespective of their creed, caste and colour,” states the 57-page order he authored.
Working on Sundays
During the latter half of Justice Nisar’s tenure judges began working on Sundays. On January 14, he heard a case on the supply of potable drinking water and deteriorating sanitation and their impact on the environment in Sindh at the Supreme Court’s Karachi Registry along with two other judges. It was the first time that the court held a hearing on a Sunday but it wasn’t the last. Justice Nisar has, ever since that first hearing, conducted several hearings on Sundays.
Surprise visits and inspections
Another hallmark of Justice Nisar’s tenure is his surprise visits and raids. He has inspected hospitals, courtrooms, jails and schools during these surprise visits. One of his most well-known ones was to the hospital room of former information minister and PPP leader Sharjeel Inam Memon on September 1. Memon was being kept in custody at Ziauddin Hospital in Karachi and when the chief justice paid him a surprise visit, he was caught with three suspicious bottles and a few packets of cigarettes.
Jahangir Tareen’s disqualification
The chief justice headed a bench that disqualified PTI leader Jahangir Tareen from holding public office for not declaring his assets. He was declared ‘untruthful’ and not sadiq or ameen, two prerequisites for public office holders.
On the last day of his tenure, while hearing a case relating to the death of 10-year-old Amar Umar who was killed in the crossfire between the police and robbers in Karachi, Justice Nisar apologised to her parents.
“I apologise I could not finish hearing the Amal case. I know your struggle is now to provide safety to other children like Amal,” he said.