June 15, 2023
The Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP) on June 14 unanimously approved the nomination of Peshawar High Court (PHC) Chief Justice (CJ) Musarrat Hilali as a judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Justice Hilali’s name will now be sent to the eight-member parliamentary committee on Judges’ Appointment in the Superior Judiciary for approval. The Committee can rescind the confirmation of the judge by a three-fourths majority of its total members.
If approved, Justice Hilali will become the second woman judge in the Supreme Court’s history. She was also the second female CJ of a high court, the first being Justice Tahira Safdar of the Balochistan High Court (BHC).
In 2021, Justice Ayesha Malik of the Lahore High Court 9LHC) was appointed as the first female judge of the apex court. However, the appointment process was marred with controversy as the bar councils opposed what they stated was a violation of the so-called seniority principle in appointments. Justice Ayesha was ranked fourth in the seniority list in the LHC. The JCP approved her appointment after hours-long debate by a majority of 5-4.
The appointment process of Justice Hilali, in comparison, was smooth as all nine members of the JCP voted in favor of her appointment. Although her name was formally proposed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Senior Puisne Judge Justice Qazi Faez Isa initially wrote a letter to the CJP in May urging him to fill two vacant judges’ seats in the Supreme Court.
Justice Isa proposed the names of Justice Hilali and Sindh High Court CJ Justice Ahmad Ali Sheikh.
Justice Hilali took oath as acting CJ of the PHC on April 1, 2022, and her appointment was later confirmed by President Arif Alvi on May 8, 2022.
Members of the legal fraternity, especially female lawyers and civil society, have welcomed Justice Hilali’s appointment and hope that she will work to uphold the rule of law and the rights of the downtrodden.
According to Afrasiab Khattak, Justice Hilali had worked as one of the leaders of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and made valuable contributions to the human rights movement prior to her appointment as a judge of the high courts.
Justice Musarrat Hilali was born in Peshawar on August 8, 1961. She received her law degree from Khyber Law College at 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 woman to be elected as Secretary and Vice President of the PHC Bar Association, and was twice elected as an executive member of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan (SCBAP). As 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 the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Environmental Protection Tribunal.
Justice Hilali was appointed as the first female ombudsperson for Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. She was elevated to the bench as an Additional Judge on March 26, 2013, and confirmed as a permanent judge of the Peshawar High Court on March 13, 2014.