Justice Ayesha Malik on Monday took her oath as a Supreme Court judge and formally became the country’s first-ever female judge to reach the apex court.
Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed administered the oath to Justice Malik in a ceremony held at the ceremonial hall of the Supreme Court.
In a brief interaction with reporters after the oath-taking ceremony, the chief justice said that Justice Malik was competent enough to become a Supreme Court judge and that no one else but her deserved credit for her elevation.
The top judge was then asked if Justice Malik was considered for elevation to the top court for being a woman or her standing as a judge.
To this, he replied: “Woman”.
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.
The Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP) had earlier this month 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 JCP held another meeting afterwards to decide on Justice Malik’s elevation. A lack of consensus during an extended meeting of the JCP on Sept 9 last year had forced the commission to reject her elevation.
Discord over appointment
A lack of consensus over the appointment of Justice Malik had surfaced during the JCP’s meeting on Sep 9 last year in which four members of the commission had opposed the proposal to elevate her, while an equal number supported it.
Justice Maqbool Baqar, Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, former judge Dost Mohammad Khan and a representative of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), Akhtar Hussain, had opposed the idea whereas CJP Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Federal Law Minister Barrister Dr Farogh Naseem and Attorney General (AGP) Khalid Jawed Khan had favoured Justice Malik.
At the time, the Supreme Court Bar Association President Abdul Latif Afridi had called a countrywide protest to express anger over disregard to the seniority principle in the appointment of judges to the apex court.
The same criticism was levelled this time as well, with the legal fraternity calling on the chief justice to postpone the JCP meeting. In case the meeting was not called off, the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and all bar associations said they would boycott all court proceedings, from the superior judiciary to the lower courts.
While the JCP was holding its session, lawyers had arranged a protest and convention in a nearby office of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA). They accused the judiciary of favouritism in the appointment of superior court judges and thus harming its image.
Through a resolution, the convention had asked the JCP to adhere to the seniority principle in appointments to the apex court from the provincial high courts until such time as fair, transparent and objective criteria for appointment of judges at all levels were framed in consultation with all stakeholders and appropriate amendments to the Judicial Commission Rules were made.
In a related development, LHC Bar Association President Maqsood Buttar had moved a petition before the Supreme Court earlier this month seeking directions that the JCP invite all relevant stakeholders; judges, senior lawyers and bar representatives, members of the parliamentary committee, the federal and provincial governments and civil society and structure the process of judicial appointments to the superior courts to make them more objective and transparent.
The petition also sought directions for the JCP to frame comprehensive and detailed rules/guidelines to structure both the process of and parameters for appointment.
The petition had also asked that until the criteria was developed, the JCP should stick to the seniority principle in the elevation of high court judges to the Supreme Court.
Justice Malik: a brief profile
Justice Malik completed her early education from schools in Paris and New York and then completed her senior Cambridge from the Karachi Grammar School.
She studied law at the Pakistan College of Law in Lahore and went on to do her LLB from the Harvard Law School Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, where she was named a London H Gammon fellow 1998-1999.
From 2001 to the date of her elevation as a high court judge, she worked with the law firm of Rizvi, Isa, Afridi and Angell, first as a senior associate and then a partner in charge of the firm’s Lahore office.
Justice Malik has appeared as a pro-bono counsel for several NGOs working on poverty alleviation, microfinance and skills-training programmes.
She is also author of a number of publications and has taught banking law at University of the Punjab and mercantile law at the College of Accounting and Management Sciences Karachi.