Justice Umar Ata Bandial
Born in Lahore on Sept 17, 1958, Umar Ata Bandial received elementary and secondary education from different schools in Kohat, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and Lahore. He secured a bachelor’s degree in economics from Columbia University, followed by a Law Tripos degree from Cambridge and qualified as a barrister-at-law from the prestigious Lincoln’s Inn in London.
In 1983, he was enrolled as an advocate of the Lahore High Court (LHC) and a few years later, as an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
In his law practice at Lahore, Mr Bandial dealt mostly with commercial, banking, tax and property matters. He also handled international commercial disputes after 1993, right up until his elevation. He also appeared in arbitration matters before the Supreme Court and various international arbitral tribunals in London and Paris.
He was elevated as a judge of the LHC on Dec 4, 2004. He was one of the judges who declined to retake their oath under the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) of Nov 2007, when Gen. Pervez Musharraf proclaimed a state of emergency on Nov 3, 2007. However, he was restored as a judge as a result of a lawyers’ movement for the revival of the judiciary.
Justice Bandial serviced as Chief Justice of LHC for two years before being appointed as a Justice of the Supreme Court in June 2014.
During his career in the superior judiciary, Justice Bandial has rendered a number of important judgements on issues of public and private law. These include pronouncements on civil and commercial disputes, constitutional rights and public interest matters. He was part of a ten-member larger bench that has dismissed the presidential reference against Justice Qazi Faiz Isa. He was also part of the bench hearing Daska election rigging case and presidential reference regarding the senate election. He has also chaired the bench which decided to reinstate the thousands of sacked employees.
Justice Bandial also taught contract law and torts law at the Punjab University Law College, Lahore until 1987 and remained a member of its graduate studies committee while serving as the LHC judge.
President Arif Alvi had formally appointed Justice Bandial as the country’s next chief judge on January 17. He will serve in the top judicial office until Sept 16, 2023 when he is due to be replaced by Justice Qazi Faez Isa.
According to the scheme of seniority, Justice Isa would be CJP until Oct 25, 2024, when he is replaced by Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan for 282 days. Then, on Aug 4, 2025, the post would go to Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah. He is expected to remain in office Nov 27, 2027, when he would be succeeded by Justice Munib Akhtar. Justice Yahya Afridi would be the country’s next top judge from Dec 14, 2028 until Jan 22, 2030.
With his elevation to the office of CJP, Justice Bandial now faces a veritable mountain of around 51,766 cases that are pending before the Supreme Court alone. The overall backlog of cases in Pakistan’s judiciary, including the superior courts as well as district courts, stands at a whopping 2.1 million.
The legal fraternity as well as the common citizens of Pakistan hope that being a man of integrity and a competent judge who commands the respect of the legal community, would do his best for the uplift of the judiciary by eradicating all irritants for the smooth dispensation of justice in Pakistan.
Moreover, as CJP, Justice Bandial’s foremost task would be to ensure the judiciary’s reputation for independence, which has often come under threat in the past.
Secondly, he will have to chart a course on how to exercise the vast discretions that accompany the office of the CJP – whether it relates to the nomination of judges, assumption of suo motu or constitution of benches and fixation of cases.
Thirdly, he will need to formulate a strategy on how to fix and reform the judicial process as a whole so that justice is delivered to litigants, not in decades but in months.
Roadmap for Future
The new CJP outlined his vision and roadmap for the SC a day earlier while speaking at a full-court reference held in honour of the outgoing chief justice Gulzar Ahmed.
He criticised mainstream and social media alike for resorting to attacking judges rather than criticising their judgements. “The differences in judges’ opinions in matters of law arise from our individual perceptions and this diversity brings richness to our understanding,” Justice Bandial explained.
Coining the idea of performance audits of all courts, including the apex court, to identify and remedy weaknesses, Justice Bandial had also called on the legal fraternity to help save the court’s time by ensuring a greater reliance on written briefs, concise statements and skeleton arguments by counsel and an end to the culture of seeking adjournments at the time of the hearing.
In the criminal context, he said, failed prosecutions were the result of faulty investigations and a failure to collect valuable evidentiary material. “Better training and improved coordination of investigation and prosecuting authorities would enable them to bring successful prosecutions to court,” Justice Bandial said.
The writer is a Lahore-based legal consultant.