Pakistan’s Judiciary Commission recently confirmed the appointment of the first female Supreme Court Justice in the history of the Muslim-majority nation, paving the way for Justice Ayesha A. Malik to join the Supreme Court.
The decision was widely hailed by the government, lawyers, activists and civil society groups, calling it a defining moment in the Islamic nation’s judicial history.
Pakistani Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed backed Malik’s nomination.
Next up is a parliamentary panel where Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf party has more than enough members to confirm his nomination for a 10-year term.
“This is an important development for Pakistan. She is a capable judge and a role model for women in the judiciary and legal field,” Maleeka Bokhari, a ruling party lawmaker and parliamentary secretary for law, told DW. and righteousness.
Many lawyers and even judges said Malik’s selection was made in violation of seniority lists
Breaking the glass ceiling
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an independent human rights organization, also welcomed the appointment.
“As the first female justice appointed to the Supreme Court in the country’s judicial history, this is an important step towards improving gender diversity in the justice system, where women would make up only 17 % of judges overall and just under 4.4% in high courts,” HRCP said.
Observers and rights activists believe the move has shattered the glass ceiling and that her appointment will lead to more opportunities for women in the legal field.
“It definitely broke the glass ceiling. It will impact cases, not specifically gender related, but having a female judge will increase women’s confidence to access justice and go to court. “, Nighat Dad, a digital rights lawyer and human rights activist, told DW.
Bokhari also shares a similar view. “It’s the beginning of the glass ceiling shattering, and we’re hoping for more women to find themselves at the senior leadership level in various fields.”
A remarkable legal career
After completing his basic education at schools in Paris, New York and London, Malik studied law at Pakistan College of Law in Lahore. She then pursued graduate studies at Harvard University in the United States, where she was named a London H. Gammon Fellow 1998-1999 for her exceptional merit.
Prior to being appointed as a High Court judge, Malik held various positions in law firms. She is also the author of several publications on commerce and financial services, the issue of judicial independence and the secular laws of Pakistan.
Additionally, Malik had been a reporter for the Oxford Reports on the International Law in the Domestic Courts, a publication of Oxford University Press.
Malik had also appeared as a pro bono adviser for NGOs working on poverty alleviation, microfinance and skills development programs.
The 55-year-old is currently a judge in the High Court of Lahore.
Known for her integrity and discipline, Malik has been involved in delivering a number of landmark verdicts on major constitutional issues, including the application of international arbitration in Pakistan, declaration of assets in elections and, above all, the ban on carrying out virginity tests on female victims of rape.
Although historic, the Judiciary Committee’s decision to elevate him to the Supreme Court has sparked controversy.
The nine-member body that was to confirm his nomination refused his elevation to the Supreme Court last year. The recent vote was close, with five committee members opting for it while four were against.
Many lawyers and even judges have said Malik’s selection was made in violation of seniority lists because she was not among the three most senior judges in the lower court from which she came.
Some legal bodies have threatened to strike and boycott court proceedings, saying their calls for the drafting of fixed criteria for the appointment of Supreme Court justices have been ignored.
“There is no doubt that greater representation of women is needed in the justice system. Having a woman there is a positive development, but we cannot tolerate the process by which arbitrary and non-transparent decisions have been made. taken not only in this case but before this appointment as well,” Imaan Mazari, an Islamabad-based lawyer and rights activist, told DW.
“I don’t think the Bar’s opposition should have been controversial, it was not specific to Judge Ayesha Malik, and no one questioned her competence as a judge. The debate was about the process of Judiciary Committee,” Mazari said.
A step towards gender equality in justice
Usama J Malik, a senior lawyer, said there is a misconception that majority of male lawyers in Pakistan opposed the elevation of Ayesha Malik to the highest court because of her gender.
“Many male lawyers wholeheartedly support his elevation and believe there should be more women from ethnic and religious minorities in the senior judiciary.”
Papa, the digital rights lawyer, said that despite the latest ruling, more efforts should be made to secure more female judges in the country’s high courts and the Supreme Court.
“More emphasis should be placed on the promotion of female judges from lower courts to higher courts. Malik was promoted on the basis of merit and there are many other female judges and lawyers capable of working in the higher courts,” she said.
Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru
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