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With great sorrow we announce the demise of our partner Mr Samdani. He will be missed immensely.

Speaking truth to Power: What we can Learn from Late Justice Samdani

 

Hamid L. Sharif*

 

On April 11, 2013 Pakistan lost one of its best judges and a national moral compass. While for many people an important public office brings greatness for them, in the case of Justice Samdani he brought greatness and dignity to the office of a judge. Justice Samdani is commonly known as “the judge who granted bail to Bhutto”. Yet this one single act was just a minor illustration of his greatness.

 

Mr. Bhutto got the bail because he deserved it and not because Justice Samdani was biased in favor of Pakistan People’s Party. We once talked about this and Justice Samdani was very matter of fact. In his view bail was basically an accused person’s right unless the prosecution could show good reasons for not granting bail. The presumption of bail in favor of the accused had not been rebutted so he granted bail to Mr. Bhutto. Unlike many judges who then and even now reserve judgments in sensitive matters, Justice Samdani, to the surprise of many, went on to announce grant of bail to Mr. Bhutto in open court. It was clear that he was not going to take dictation or would even risk that he should be seen to be taking dictation from anyone in dealing with Mr. Bhutto’s case.

 

This clearly did not sit well with the establishment, so Justice Samdani was appointed as Secretary Ministry of Law. Returning to the executive was nothing new for Justice Samdani as he had passed the competitive examination and joined the civil service earlier in his career.  As Secretary Law he was impeccable. The most celebrated event during this assignment was his altercation with President Zia ul Haque. These were still fairly early days of the military regime and in a meeting with top civil servants President Zia ul Haque laid all blame for Pakistan’s ills with the civil service. He said that it would not be a bad idea to “pull down the trousers” of some top civil servants i.e. make an example of them. At this point the diminutive Justice Samdani stood tall and spoke truth to power. While not disagreeing that some senior civil servants may share blame for what was wrong with the country, Justice Samdani suggested that it might not be a bad idea if the trousers of some Generals were also pulled down in the process. At this point an unscheduled tea break was called. Justice Samdani when speaking about this event said that he had never felt so lonely in his life as during this tea break. He was completely left to himself. Many of his close and old civil service colleagues would not dare speak to him or stand next to him for fear of being associated with him.

 

Soon after this when Justice Samdani returned to the Lahore High Court, President Zia ul Haque promulgated the notorious Provisional Constitutional Order 1981 that effectively abrogated the constitution and required judges to take a new oath. Justice Samdani refused to take the oath. President Zia ul Haque through several emissaries sent word to Justice Samdani requesting him to take the oath but Justice Samdani refused. As he said to his friends, “ An oath is not something that you take twice”. At that time with small children and a few hundred rupees in his account he gave up the perks and privileges of a prestigious public office. Soon after he went into self imposed exile in London and returned in the eighties to legal practice. He was elected as President of the Lahore High Court Bar Association. He practiced as an advocate of the Supreme Court and also appeared in High Courts other than the Lahore High Court.

 

As a junior lawyer I had the privilege of working and travelling with Justice Samdani. What always struck me was the respect and awe he enjoyed. We could not pass through an airport lounge without someone stepping forward to greet him and simply pay respect. These were people from all walks of life and social strata. For me this was astonishing as I saw corrupt public officials generally fêted and it seemed that people had lost their moral compass. In people’s affection and respect for Justice Samdani I found hope that people still had regard for upright and bold public officials. This was confirmed when I worked with Justice Samdani in the training of civil judges under an Asian Development Bank project. Civil judges were awed by him and took pride that their profession had produced such a courageous and bold judge.

 

The movement for judicial independence that brought tens of thousands on the streets of Pakistan, shows that people yearn for justice and will back officials who stand up in the face of power. This is a lesson not only for the judiciary but all those who occupy public office or serve in government. Indeed the duty to speak truth in the face of power is central to one’s own integrity and dignity. Justice Samdani often characterized this as part of one’s own self respect and khudi. More importantly as a leader he also understood the flip side of this; that one must allow others to disagree and correct one-self. That is why it was a pleasure to work with Justice Samdani. He was always open to reason and listened to a good argument. Many in the judiciary and civil service have high regard for Justice Samdani. Their best tribute to him would be to live by his example in the discharge of their official duties.

 

 

Hamid L.Sharif is Country Director, Asian Development Bank, People’s Republic of China. He was a partner in Justice Samdani’s law firm. 

 

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With great sorrow we announce the demise of our partner Mr Samdani. He will be missed immensely. Speakin...

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