Pakistan swears in new chief justice

Pakistan swears in new chief justice
President Hussain (centre) administering the oath of office to Justice Jillani (right) in Islamabad on Thursday. Prime Minister Sharif is seated at left.

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's new chief justice took his oath of office yesterday after his outspoken predecessor retired, ending an eight-year turbulent and at times controversial era.

Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain swore in Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani after Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry stepped down a day earlier.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Justice Chaudhry and other top government officials including ministers attended the ceremony.

Justice Chaudhry, originally appointed in 2005 during the military rule of then president and four-star general Pervez Musharraf and who came to be one of the architects of the latter's downfall, has divided opinion.

Some have praised him for fearlessly taking on politicians and security agencies, while others have criticised him for exceeding the proper authority of the chief justice and interfering in political matters.

In June last year, he chaired a Supreme Court bench that sacked the then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani after convicting him of contempt of court.

The move, likened by some observers to a "judicial coup", marked the culmination of a long-running tussle between the judiciary and the government, then led by the Pakistan People's Party, over corruption allegations against the then president Asif Ali Zardari.

Justice Chaudhry has also taken on Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies, which are often seen as untouchable, demanding that they explain the fate of missing persons believed to have disappeared into their custody.

Legal circles see the 64-year-old Justice Jillani to be a far quieter presence.

Justice Jillani has been a Supreme Court judge since 2004 and, like Justice Chaudhry, was sacked when Musharraf imposed emergency rule in November 2007.

Faced with growing protests led by lawyers furious at the treatment of the judges, Musharraf stepped down as army chief later the same month and lost a general election in February 2008.

Justice Jillani re-joined the Supreme Court in 2009.

He must retire when he turns 65 in July. The next in line after him, Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk, like Justice Jillani, has the reputation of a moderate, and will reach retirement age a year later.

With the change in the judiciary, Prime Minister Sharif's elected government would now hold authority over the country's military and the courts - the two branches that could threaten his rule, said analysts.

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