US-Pakistan Judicial Exchange
By Tahir Ali
Judge Janet Bond Arterton at the podium Judge Arterton with members of the NEMBA Board. (R-L): Syma Ahmad (President),
Judge Arterton, Shehla Syed (Treasurer) and Hinna Mushtaque (Secretary)
Wayland , MA: The New England Muslim Bar Association (NEMBA) - founded in 2009 with the objective of serving the educational and professional needs of Muslim lawyers, and as a legal resource for Muslims communities here in the US - organized a memorable afternoon with US District Court Judge Janet Arterton.
In mid-December 2009, Judge Arterton, US District Judge in New Haven, Connecticut and Judge Morrison England from the federal district court in Sacramento, California embarked on a Judicial Exchange project which was sponsored by the International Judicial Relations Committee, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and Pakistan’s Supreme Court and Federal Judicial Academy.
Honorable Janet Bond Arterton revealed to the eager audience who had gathered at the Islamic Center in Wayland to anxiously hear what the Judge had to say about her recent visit to Pakistan. USAID had decided in 2007 that the Pakistan judiciary was a priority. “It is obvious that a mutual and trustful relationship between the US and Pakistan is beneficial to both but, in my view, the benefits of a strong rule of law regime have global benefits but need domestic cultivation.”
She argued that the judiciary seems to be the only institution that can push back the power of the Pakistani military. Case in point: “The heroic struggle of lawyers in 2007-2009, vehemently protesting the removal of Chief Justice Chaudhry and his supporting justices by President Mussaraf was one of the most hopeful signs.”
The Judge declared, “Ideally this program should have taken place earlier because the Taliban were busy setting up a parallel system - and had the program started earlier it might have slowed down the Taliban.”
Her Honor admitted that “while their systems produced speedy results, they didn’t resemble ‘justice’ by international standards. But they were becoming competitive with the judicial system in those areas because they were much faster.”
While acknowledging that the attorneys were committed to judicial independence, one cannot lose sight of the fact that the bar tradition tolerates abuse of judges by lawyers: “Apparently, they have even been known to lock judges in their chambers until they got the scheduling ruling or order they sought.”
It was becoming very clear from Judge Arterton’s comments that the judges need to take ownership of their courts.
Judging from Arterton’s enthusiasm it seemed that she and England bonded well with their Pakistani counterparts.
“We reached a point of communication with our colleagues that allowed a very candid discussion about corruption and undue outside influence that they experienced. One judge told his story of receiving a phone call from higher-ups in
the judicial hierarchy pressuring him to rule a certain way. Then other judges shared their stories.” Arterton characterized this like a meeting with victims of domestic violence, “when one person dared to speak up, the others felt safe to follow.”
It is pretty much public knowledge that the oldest cases in backlog are land disputes, and maybe Arterton hit the nail on the head when she pointed the possible reason for making any headway - was the difficulty in proving who really owned the land, “and even if there was a land title, there is one man in the whole country who is deemed the custodian of the record and so he must be present at any land claim hearing and he can’t be everywhere at once.”
In responding to a question from Rashid Shaikh in the audience, Judge Arterton shared her resolve in that she has proposed to USAID that the next step ought to be having a couple of the Pakistani judges come to the US “and see firsthand what we were talking about.”
Arterton pointed out that according to the US Embassy’s Deputy Security Advisor the two major issues involving the Pakistani people right now are the delivery of services to the people and the dispensing of justice.
The judge evidently enjoyed the food in Pakistan, in her own words, “Lunch was a delicious affair each day.” Clearly, justice was served, after all.