When Qazi Faez Isa was appointed chief justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court last month, the respected Dawn newspaper carried a detailed article on his professional and personal background headlined, Pakistan’s Judicial Maverick. A maverick is by definition an unorthodox or independent minded person and in the less than distinguished annals of the judiciary in that country, he’s known for his fiercely independent views, integrity and disinclination to compromise with unelected persons or organisations.
Isa’s judgements and rulings have raised eyebrows and are seen as unprecedented. In 2014 he opposed judges taking the oath under Emergency orders issued by the late Gen Parvez Musharraf, in 2015 he opposed the establishment of military courts even though the Supreme Court had ruled in its favour, in 2016 he found the government negligent in the Quetta suicide blast case and called for strict action against banned terrorist organisations.
There are some who believe he is close to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. They cite his ruling in the Hudaibiya Mills case in 2017 when the latter was acquitted on a technicality. Sharif was also cleared of corruption charges amounting to over one billion Pakistani rupees. His supporters say he has tried to maintain a fine balance between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. In a 2012 ruling, he called for consultation and consensus between the government and opposition in selecting members to the Election Commission. His judgments are seen as guided by justice and constitutional legality rather than favouring any particular political group or unelected leaders.
Oddly enough, the powerful army did not oppose his appointment to the highest judicial seat in the land. Does this suggest it sees Isa as an ally or does it suggest the army saw no purpose in picking a fight with somebody it could not win against? Isa has 13 months in his tenure as chief justice, which may be too short if he has plans to clean up the judiciary. But there are low hanging fruit or reforms he may seek to push through and leave a lasting stamp on.