President Musharraf is no King James I Commentary
President Musharraf is no King James I
Edited by: JURIST Commentator

Ali Khan [Washburn University School of Law]: "President Musharraf is no King James I and Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is no Chief Justice Edward Coke, but since Pakistan has been part of the British Empire and the common law traditions continue to inform the Pakistani legal system, a brief narrative of the tensions between James I and Chief Justice Coke might illuminate the current executive-judiciary conflict in Pakistan.

Soon after assuming the British throne in 1603, James I summoned the common law judges, led by Edward Coke, to instruct them not to interfere with the King's Will & Authority. James I strongly believed that the King ruled by divine right and was accountable to no man. Lord Coke mustered the courage to say: "The King should not be under man, but under God and the Law." But for James I, a pagan at heart and divine on the throne, Coke's admonition did nothing to spoil the belief: "That which pleases the king has the force of law." At another occasion, when James I expressed a desire about hearing cases himself, Coke is reported to have suggested that the King, though highly gifted, had no legal training to decide questions of law. (Does President Musharraf have the requisite legal training to exercise Article 209(5) Executive powers without expert advice?)

James I's rule was filled with terrorism. Many plots were hatched to kill the King. In the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, Guy Fawkes, a Protestant soldier (al Qaeda operator), was caught planting explosives in the House of Lords to kill the King, his family, and the ruling aristocracy. In the 17th century Britain, it was treason even to imagine that the King had died. As a zealous prosecutor, Coke sent Fawkes and co-conspirators to the gallows. In 1615, however, Justice Coke expressed doubts about the prosecution of a Puritan preacher for wishful treason. The preacher had expressed a theological wish in an undelivered sermon that God could strike the King with sudden death.

In 1616, James 1 fired Chief Justice Coke for refusing to obey the King.

After his dismissal, Coke refused to fade away. He became politically active. In 1620, Coke was elected to the House of Commons where he continued to denounce the law that punished the people for dreaming that the king had died. In 1628, Coke authored the Petition of Right. The Petition demanded that the King refrain from arbitrary arrests and imposing martial law. However, the Petition was addressed to King Charles 1 and not to James 1 who had died in 1625 from natural causes (dysentery). Coke's commitment to the rule of law and the peoples' rights inspired many founders of the American Revolution. And his Petition of Right was the forerunner of the U. S. Bill of Rights. It is for the unfolding of such events that Shakespeare (Coke's contemporary) had said: "There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow."

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