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Pakistan's Chief Justice Returns to Court Vowing to Tackle Corruption

Pakistan's reinstated Supreme Court Chief Justice has returned to court, calling for lawyers to help him tackle judicial corruption.

Cheering supporters of the chief justice crowded around his car as he arrived at the supreme court, showering him with rose petals.

Thronged by dozens of lawyers and police, the 60-year-old justice completed a remarkable comeback by returning to the court he was fired from in November 2007.

Chaudhry has largely avoided the news media since the politically embattled central government, facing mass protests for his return, announced his reinstatement last week.

When he began his first hearing Tuesday he called for lawyers to help him end judicial corruption. He said "it is a must for justice to end corruption first."

Chaudhry's former spokesman, Athar Minallah, tells VOA that although he could be constrained by the numerous judges appointed to the court by President Asif Zardari and former president Pervez Musharraf during his absence, the judge has a strong popular mandate for change.

"His restoration has sent a very positive message. Indeed his hands are tied, but with the backing of the people, the kind of historic movement that is behind him, I think that should be the strength to bring about a difference in the system," said Minallah.

Chaudhry faces several politically sensitive cases that could upend Pakistan's already fragile government. He could take up challenges to the current president's eligibility to hold office, treason charges against former president Pervez Musharraf and challenges to the legitimacy of scores of judicial appointments.

For now, Athar Minallah says the justice remains focused on efforts to improve the slow and corrupt courts that frustrate many Pakistanis.

"I think Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry has in his mind, on using the powers vested in the supreme court to bring about reforms, to reduce delays, to improve the judicial system at the lowest levels where the common people are affected," said Minallah. "I think that is one of his priorities."

When he was last on the bench, Chaudhry was known to take up public-interest litigation and champion cases of people he read about in the newspaper.

Legal analyst Anees Jillani says that reputation has led to unrealistic expectations from people eager for a national leader to address their problems.

"When the chief justice was reinstated there were people who were saying on the streets that maybe the chief justice will be able to handle this inflation," Jillani said. "There are relatives of missing persons who feel that he will be able to get back their missing relatives. So it is like anyone has any problems, and that person has expectations that the chief justice will be able to resolve it."

Among his first rulings on the bench, the chief justice set a date for hearing petitions for a review of the decision that barred former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother from holding elected office. Chaudhry said justices will hear review petitions in the case on Monday.