Judicial independence implies independence of a judicial officer from all extraneous considerations and influences, including freedom from the coercive influence of seniors on the bench. Conventional wisdom suggests that the best protection against abuse of arbitrary authority is to distribute it widely. In the US all justices of the Supreme Court have a vote in determining which matters are to be fixed before the court, just as they have an equal vote in determining the outcome of a legal dispute. Given the size of our court and the number of cases heard by the apex court, a voting system involving all justices might not work for us. But our Supreme Court should have an executive committee comprising the five senior most judges who collectively exercise the administrative functions of the court, with the chief justice functioning as the committee chair.
Such an approach to judicial reform will be rooted in principle, as opposed to being outcome-driven, unlike the proposed reduction in CJ Chaudhry tenure aimed at seeing him off as soon as possible. One the one hand it will guard against the whimsical exercise of authority as well the partisan affiliations of all chief justices, and on the other it will make it harder for a ruling executive to solicit favourable decisions from the court in a matter of days by liaising with an all-powerful chief justice. Effective statesmanship requires of a leader to conceive a vision larger than the immediate partisan goals of his clique. In order to establish that the PPP's commitment to judicial independence and reform transcends its love for the NRO, Asif Zardari must opt for a principled approach to reform that makes the judiciary impervious to partisan executive manipulation – even the PPP's.