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Mr Constitution — May I question

'Political scientists classify constitutions broadly on basis of ruler's law and people's law. The former, being repressive and later being more progressive.'

Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, stated that “No provision in our constitution ought to be dearer than that which protects the right of conscience against the enterprises of civil authority,” in fact and effect is the universal guiding principle pertaining to constitution, it’s sanctity and interpretation. What are the basis on which constitutions are classified? Does the national conscience dictate the constitution or vice versa and what are the basis on which constitutions are interpreted?

These questions have become increasingly prevalent in our lives over the years.

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Robust and delivering democracies find themselves based on constitutions, which are living and continuously adapt to changing circumstances. Constitutions require to be interpreted to resolve disagreements on meaning and applicability of its certain provisions.

Cherished goals of peace and freedom for masses are achieved or remain elusive depending on the way they are governed. Constitutions provide for this governance. Political scientists classify constitutions broadly on the basis of ruler’s law and people’s law. The former, being repressive and later being more progressive. Ruler’s law is akin to an inverted triangle, providing for a top heavy with the ruling elite, trimming down to narrower bottom of constituent entities like provinces or communities ultimately transferring the burden to the individual citizens. It inherently monopolizes power, and thus can lead to authoritarian rule.

People’s law, on the other hand, hinges at a contract of people amongst themselves, as society, harboring a sacred trust that they shall perform certain duties and discharge responsibilities. Each individual is thus important and responsible for his or her act in the eyes of the state and its laws. Therefore, the inverted triangle of ruler’s law is placed the right side up in here, with a broad base of individual citizens bonding together for the collective good of the society. Hence, ruler’s law is based on fear and so are the constitutions framed in it, whereas those stemming from people’s law are based on faith and mutual trust. The notion that national conscience subservient to constitution or is constitution a mirror image of national conscience, can be analyzed in light of historic perspective and acclaimed constitutions of the world.

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Benjamin Franklin, one of the authors of the American constitution, said, “Only virtuous people are capable of freedom.” This part of the quote, though small, carries complete content and context. It signifies, that freedoms are afforded by societies on the basis of their virtues, as virtues instill responsibilities. This is a fact which I have been highlighting in previous write ups too, that freedom is best exercised when societies are willing to act with responsibility. Such like experts of constitutions maintain that form of constitution is no more important than the moral stability of people. It all depends on quality of the people.

Therefore, constitution is based on aspirations of the people which are not corruptible. It cannot deliver when national psyche is bogged down morally. It is fair enough to imply that national conscience dictates the constitution and not vice versa. Discussion on classification of constitution and its dependence on the quality of people adopting it as a code, is incomplete without bringing into account the need for its interpretation. Any constitution may need to be interpreted for its meaning and provisions. The role of the interpreting authority is paramount. Foremost is the interpretation on the basis of textual content; objective meaning of text, then comes the original meaning which is based on the popular understanding by at least a segment of populace, once the constitution was framed. Judicial precedence, pragmatism; weighing the consequence of one interpretation with another provide for other means of interpretation, followed up by moral reasoning and national ethos.

Despite our constitution providing for people’s rule and claiming to be based on the aspirations of the people of Pakistan, the frequency with which it requires to be interpreted is mind boggling for a layman. Every other case put across the competent authority invokes a need for interpretation. Why is it always that one article of our constitution is either to be read in conjunction with another or is in total disagreement with another? Why cannot it ever happen that, basing on a certain article, the finality of law or justice adopted is absolute and unchallengeable? Why is it a must to interpret the constitution in shades of grey? Does the constitution provide for the notorious ‘law of necessity,’ or on the contrary, obviates it in the true spirit? How does it image the national conscience, when relief is provided to a proclaimed offender in the middle of the night, citing its provisions or denying even a fair hearing to a complainant that too in broad daylight on a working day? At the end of the day, the questions which we ask, determine the type of people we want to be.

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