March 27, 2023
By Rehan Piracha
Lawyers and activists have welcomed the likely appointment of Justice Musarrat Hilali as the first woman chief justice of the Peshawar High Court (PHC) upon the retirement of two senior judges this month.
PHC Chief Justice Qaiser Rashid and Senior Puisne Judge Roohul Amin Khan are retiring on March 30 and March 31 respectively, paving the way for the appointment of Justice Musarrat Hilali as chief justice of the high court as she is the senior-most in the judges’ seniority list. However, Justice Musarrat Hilali’s tenure as head of the judiciary will be around four months upon her retirement on August 7.
The elevation of Justice Mussarat Hilali as Chief Justice of Peshawar High Court next week will be a welcome development in the judicial history of Pakhtunkhwa, said veteran politician and human rights defender Afrasiab Khattak.
“She will be making history as the first woman judge to be appointed as the Chief Justice of Peshawar High Court,” he told Voicepk.net.
Valuable contribution to HR movement
According to Afrasiab Khattak, advocate Mussarat Hilali had worked as one of the leaders of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan ( HRCP) and had made valuable contributions in the human rights movement prior to her elevation to the high court.
“Her appointment as the Chief Justice of Peshawar High Court will prove once again that women have the capacity to deliver on every task if they have equal opportunity,” he said. Her appointment as Chief Justice at this point of time is especially important in view of the fact that the resurgent Talibanisation is threatening to erode whatever little rights the women of Pakhtunkhwa have achieved so far, Afrasiab Khattak added.
A relief-giving judge
Zarbad Shah, vice chairman of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bar Council, and Syed Mubashir Shah, chairman of the executive committee, hailed Justice Musarrat Hilali’s likely elevation as the first female chief justice of the Peshawar High Court, terming it a proud moment for the province.
Mubashir Shah praised her positive attitude with litigants and lawyers during court proceedings. He said Musarrat Hilali actively participated in the 2007 lawyers’ movement, adding that she even suffered a broken leg during one of the incidents where there was a baton charge during a demonstration.
Zarbad Shah said Justice Musarrat Hilali is known as a ‘relief-giving’ judge in the lawyers’ community.
“She is a pleasant personality with a good sense of humour that also keeps court proceedings pleasant,” he said.
Elevation to make judiciary more gender-diverse
According to senior lawyer Shabbir Gigyani, her elevation will lead to a more gender-diverse judiciary which will have far-reaching effects on people’s access to justice and the quality of justice.
“It’s a symbol of how women’s struggles over the past few decades have pushed back patriarchal structures and gender stereotypes,” he added.
Shabbir Gigyani hoped that her elevation to chief justice would lead to more women-centric decisions by the judiciary in the future.
“Justice Hilali has developed a reputation for integrity and discipline in the court, where she has delivered several landmark verdicts on major constitutional issues as well as human rights matters including military courts conviction cases as well as victims of the black law Frontier Crimes Regulation and the draconian law Action in Aid of Civil Powers Regulation, 2011,” he said.
Justice Musarrat Hilali was born in Peshawar on August 8, 1961. She received her law degree from Khyber Law College of Peshawar University.
She started her legal career as an advocate of the district courts in 1983 and enrolled as an advocate of the Supreme Court in 2006.
She was the first female to be elected as secretary and vice president of the Peshawar High Court Bar Association and twice elected as an executive member of the Supreme Court Bar Association.
Being a trailblazer, she was the first female additional advocate general of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from November 2001 till March 2004. She was also appointed as Chairperson of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Environmental Protection Tribunal.
Musarrat Hilali was appointed as the first female ombudsperson for Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
She was elevated to the Bench as Additional Judge on March 26, 2013 and confirmed as Permanent Judge of the Peshawar High Court on March 13, 2014.