After a 20-month tenure that saw the Supreme Court at the centre of many stories, Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial hung up his robes on Saturday. As had been the case during his term in office, commentators had strong opinions about what his tenure had mattered to the court.
A teary-eyed Bandial compared himself to the setting sun in his last speech. Others were far less kind.
Dawn published an editorial as Bandial exited, saying it was ‘hard not to agree’ that the court had overstepped its jurisdiction by striking down the NAB amendments as said by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah in his dissenting note.
“… the court once again delivered where it, perhaps, should not have,” the editorial said.
In two separate opinion pieces published in Dawn, authors belonging to the legal fraternity painted a different picture of how much honour the outgoing CJ had brought to the court or how much had been eroded.
Lawyer Abdul Moiz Jaferii called Bandial ‘a preacher of democratic propriety who appeared too afraid of the votes within his own court’ in his piece. He added that despite seemingly taking on many fights, the CJ seemed unable to face his fellow judges.
Jaferii painted a picture of a man with confused or conflicting ideas, torn halfway between being a hare and a hound, the ultimate loser being the court’s authority.
“Obeying today’s SC has become optional. In part, this is because under CJ Bandial, its actions were stripped of its moral authority.”
In another, longer piece, lawyer Asad Rahim argued that Bandial had seen the most difficult tenure since Iftikhar Chaudhry and that he had played an ‘impossible hand with skill and patience’.
Rahim mentioned in particular that by holding his ground and ordering elections in Punjab despite the pressure, Bandial had ‘refused to plead necessity’.
The Express Tribune published a report by veteran reporter Hasnaat Malik on the day of the new chief’s oath-taking by saying that a ‘six-year-era of “like-minded” chief justices’ had ended.
The ‘like-minded’ judges, Malik wrote, were known for their pro-PTI stance, judicial arrogance, and closeness to the establishment. He also said that factionalism had been promoted by arbitrary appointments and by creating benches that kept Justice Faez Isa away.
However, in another report published by the same reporter in the same newspaper a couple of days before Bandial’s term ended took a more favourable view. It said that the chief justice had displayed ‘remarkable patience in the face of criticism and campaigns waged against him by political parties and the media.’
It also said that Bandial was known for his ‘soft-spoken’ demeanour and had an ‘untarnished’ reputation for financial integrity. It added that never misbehaved with lawyers and warmly met even those lawyers and media persons who criticised him.
In a front page news report by Mateen Haider, The Nation focused on how the new chief justice would take oath and the brief remarks made by the outgoing chief justice expressing his best wishes.
However, tucked away on Page 5 were some concluding sentences in the story’s continuation that describe Bandial’s legacy, attributed to nameless political commentators.
It said that Bandial ‘has often been accused of showing leniency towards Imran Khan and his PTI party. Many political commentators say Bandial will be remembered as one of the most polarising top judges in the country’s history, who leaves behind a ‘tarnished legacy’.
Jang and The News in their front page story on Bandial, carried over discussion from a Geo News talk show that included multiple contributors including Jaferii and Malik along with lawyers Hassan Raza Pasha and Ahmad Owais.
Pasha, who is the chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council’s executive committee, said that the factionalism that emerged in Bandial’s tenure was the clearest that has ever been seen in the court.
He added that Bandial had tried to hit a six off the last ball by striking down the NAB amendments.