Where is the Lawyer Community now? Why did Judge Saeed Khurshid resign?

Unsung hero of lawyers’ movement parts way with judiciary

By Saeed Minhas

ISLAMABAD: An unsung hero of the landmark lawyers’ movement – former Civil Judge Saeed Khurshid – is busy finishing his LLM degree while practicing law in the federal capital these days, after resigning in August 2009 to register his protest against “personification, rather than institutionalisation, of justice”.

On September 10, 2009, an administrative committee of the Lahore High Court – headed by LHC Chief Justice Khawaja Muhammad Sharif – accepted Khushid’s resignation, without a tribute. The former civil judge was not even paid outstanding dues – unlike reinstated judges who demanded they be paid salaries and allowances for the period they remained suspended.

Khurshid’s family sources say the LHC committee “unceremoniously” accepted his resignation, and “did not even allow him to claim outstanding dues that amount to more than Rs 1.5 million”.

Ironically, Khurshid was also the first from the ranks of the lower judiciary to resign on March 14, 2007, in protest at the sacking of Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. But his latest resignation went unnoticed even in the bar associations that described his decision of 2007 as “an act of bravery” during Musharraf days. Even the media that projected his 2007 resignation as breaking news had stopped following the man who proved a catalyst in the early days of the lawyers’ movement.

Khurshid told Daily Times he had to resign the second time because he could no longer back superiors in judicial offices who could not stick to the ideals of the movement and justice.

“I was not an underling… I was idealising the sanctity of an institution, which perhaps does not merit status in our national scheme of things.” He said while he had been seeing several leading figures of the movement “spitting venom against political parties, in the end, they only serve their own cause, without caring for the institutions or the masses”. Having seen towering figures of the lawyers’ movement make U-turns, just like politicians, he said he could no longer justify their acts or support them, “because in my eyes, they are all fooling the people”.

A 12-member SC bench’s verdict of July 31, 2009 – which declared all decisions by former chief justice Abdul Hameed Dogar ultra constitutional, because he had taken oath under the PCO from a dictator – proved to be the tipping point for Khurshid. “It was too much for me,” he said.

The SC asked all judges who had taken oath under the PCO to quit or face contempt charges. Subsequently, the majority of such judges left their court offices.

According to Khurshid, “this proves that justice in our country has become personified, while several among us thought we were fighting a war to institutionalise justice”. He said the removal of PCO judges through such verdicts “speaks volumes about the so-called sanctity of law”.

Under the rulings of the same bench, he said the reference against Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was quashed “without caring for Article 209 of the constitution… according to which only the Supreme Judicial Council can decide a reference against a judge”.

He said “loads of reservations” over the conduct of several leading figures of the lawyers’ movement had prompted him to tender his resignation on August 5, 2009. Khurshid said he had decided to part ways with a system that had become subservient to personalities.

“Now I am upgrading my education, doing a bit of practice locally and looking after my family.”

Khurshid was serving as a judge in Bahawalpur when the chief justice was manhandled by police, prompting him to tender his first resignation in March 2007 – five days after the chief justice was sent on forced leave. At that time, he had hoped that senior members of the judiciary would follow suit in protesting against the state of affairs. While none from the higher judiciary followed his lead, some colleagues from the lower judiciary in Sindh and Punjab handed in their resignations to provide impetus to the lawyers’ movement, recalled one of the lawyer from Bahawalpur – who was holding an office in the Bahawalpur Bar Association at that time and was amazed to see the courage of this young officer.

Following the Supreme Court’s July 20, 2007, decision, the chief justice was reinstated, and after the usual official hiccups, Khurshid also resumed his job as a civil judge in August 2007.

As the lawyers’ movement continued even after the reinstatement of the chief justice to oust Pervez Musharraf and a range of developments ensued, Khurshid continued to observe from his office in the lower judiciary. He did not like what he saw and made a decision. He bid adieu to his office of civil judge in Faisalabad and was allowed to leave on September 10, 2009, by those who felt so proud of his first resignation that they had publicly assured him that his sacrifice would not go waste. While he laments “the elders of the system” have failed to do their bit, Khurshid is satisfied he has played out his part for the supremacy of an institution.