Judicial Shake-Up: Major reforms proposed for judges’ appointments in Pakistan

The proposed changes, scheduled for discussion at a crucial JCP meeting on Friday, aim to overhaul the traditional approach of automatically elevating high court chief justices to the Supreme Court and appointing the most senior judge as chief justice of high courts.

In a move that could fundamentally reshape the way judges are appointed to Pakistan’s highest courts, the Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP) is set to consider major amendments to its rules governing the selection process.

The proposed changes, scheduled for discussion at a crucial JCP meeting on Friday, aim to overhaul the traditional approach of automatically elevating high court chief justices to the Supreme Court and appointing the most senior judge as chief justice of high courts.

Instead, a new structured process would see multiple candidates vie for each vacancy, according to drafts of the amendments reviewed by The Associated Press. This move is likely to significantly increase competition among judges eyeing coveted spots on the superior judiciary.

“For appointment to the Supreme Court, the chairperson shall propose three persons for each vacancy as per set criteria,” states the draft, which mandates the JCP must deliberate on the nominations within 15 days before a vacancy arises.

The JCP would then nominate one candidate by majority vote to the parliamentary committee overseeing judicial appointments.

Similarly, for the critical role of chief justice of a high court, the amendments propose a panel of the five most senior judges from that court be considered, departing from the long-held practice of simply elevating the most senior judge.

A key facet of the reforms is the enhanced role envisioned for bar councils – regulatory bodies representing lawyers. Their representatives had long felt sidelined in the appointment process despite a constitutional amendment granting them a say. The proposals emanate from a committee headed by Supreme Court Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, which was tasked last December with suggesting ways to improve the oft-criticized opaque appointments system.

Other clauses in the draft amendments cover issues like adequate representation of the district judiciary, diversity considerations, criteria for appointments, and the establishment of a permanent JCP secretariat.

While the reforms could usher in a new era of judicial appointments, they are likely to face scrutiny from various quarters, including the government and sitting judges used to the status quo.

Revamping Supreme Court Appointments

One of the key areas addressed in the proposed amendments is the process for appointing judges to the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The committee has put forth a new mechanism that aims to introduce greater transparency and competition.

Under the proposed rules, when a vacancy arises in the Supreme Court, the chairperson of the Judicial Commission will propose three candidates for the position, adhering to predetermined criteria. This initial shortlisting will be followed by a meeting of the full commission, which must be convened no later than 15 days before the vacancy becomes available.

During this meeting, the commission members will deliberate on the merits of the three proposed candidates. Ultimately, through a majority vote, the commission will nominate one individual from the trio to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. This nominated candidate’s name will then be forwarded to the parliamentary committee overseeing judicial appointments.

The new process marks a significant departure from the existing system, where the path to the Supreme Court was often seen as a matter of seniority and automatic elevation. By requiring the consideration of multiple candidates and a voting procedure, the amendments seek to foster a more competitive environment and ensure that appointments are made based on a comprehensive evaluation of eligible contenders.