A dispute among the Pakistani judiciary worsened on Monday as more than 1,300 civil judges resigned in protest over the treatment of judges by lawyers and to express solidarity with Lahore District and Sessions Judge Zawar A Sheikh. The resignations come amid nationwide demonstrations by lawyers protesting police treatment of lawyers [Daily Times report] when members of the bar attempted to meet with Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khawaja Muhammad Sharif about the possible transfer of judges. The lawyers contend that judges, including Sheikh, have been disrespectful to members of the bar [Xinhua report] and should be transferred to other positions. The judges maintain that lawyers are demanding the transfers so that Sheikh and others can be replaced with judges favored by the lawyers [The Nation report]. Sharif rejected the resignations of the judges, indicating that they should continue performing their duties in order to serve the public interest. Members of the Pakistani bar have blamed Sharif for much of the violence, stating that he should have acted to protect the lawyers from the police in order to avoid the incident that sparked the recent dispute. Both sides are being urged to negotiate an end to the protests, but it remains unclear as to when the judicial system will be able to resume a normal schedule.
Sharif was also at the center of a dispute between the judicial and executive branches last February, when the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] deferred his appointment [JURIST report] as a judge to the Supreme Court. The court denied the nominations because President Asif Ali Zardari [official website] had not consulted Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry [JURIST news archive] over the appointment of Sharif to the Supreme Court as required by Article 177 of the Pakistani Constitution [text]. Tensions between the judicial and executive branches were also evident in January when the court released a detailed judgment in the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) [text] case, ruling unconstitutional an ordinance granting immunity to Zardari and 8,000 other government officials from charges of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering, murder and terrorism between January 1986 and October 1999. A special 17-member panel of the court rendered the original unanimous decision [JURIST report] in December, paving the way for corruption charges to be brought against Zardari.