In a bid to rein in the top judiciary, Pakistan`s parliament on Wednesday passed a bill to curtail the powers of the chief justice regarding suo motu cases and the constitution of benches.
The development comes a day after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif told lawmakers that “history would not forgive us” if parliament did not enact laws to curtail the powers of the country`s top judge.
Minister for Law and Justice Azam Nazeer Tarar tabled `The Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023` on Tuesday in the wake of the latest controversy over the powers of the top judge of the Supreme Court. The bill was earlier approved by the Cabinet.
“The National Assembly passes `The Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023`,” the lower house announced in a tweet.
The bill was passed hours after the National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice gave its consent. The committee headed by lawmaker Bashir Virk approved the proposed amendments.
The development comes two days after two Supreme Court judges questioned the suo motu (on its own) powers of the country`s top judge.
“It is being said that a constitutional amendment should be made,” Tarar said. “I want them to know there is no need for a constitutional amendment.”
North Waziristan lawmaker Mohsin Dawar introduced amendments which were accepted.
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Additional amendments included the right to appeal against the suo motu verdicts taken up to 30 days before the passing of the Lawyers` Protection Act was included in the bill along with the amendment that any case that involves interpreting the Constitution will not have a bench with fewer than five judges, Dawn newspaper reported.
The bill provides that the three senior-most judges will decide about the suo motu action on any issue. Previously, it was the prerogative of the chief justice of the Supreme Court. The bill also includes a clause regarding the right of challenging the decision which could be filed within 30 days and will then be fixed for a hearing in two weeks.
It says every clause, appeal or matter before the Supreme Court shall be heard and disposed of by a bench constituted by the committee comprising the chief justice and two senior judges, in order of seniority.
The bill also mentioned that the decision of the committee shall be by the majority.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman Imran Khan has lashed out at the federal government for trying to clip the discretionary powers of the country`s chief justice, asserting that the move was aimed at putting more pressure on the judiciary.
“Every one of us wants judicial reforms. But, their [the PDM parties`] only goal is to escape from the election,” Khan was quoted as saying by Geo TV in a televised address on Tuesday.
“The attack on the Supreme Court of Pakistan by the gang of criminals, the attempts to reduce its powers and degrade it, is being strongly resisted by the people and this resistance will continue,” Khan tweeted.
Khan, 70, said the current dispensation took the decision in a hurry, only to put pressure on the judiciary.
Addressing the joint session of parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Sharif talked at length about the dissenting judgement by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail of the apex court, who lashed out at the unlimited authority of the chief justice to take a suo motu (on its own) action on any issue and constitute benches of choice to hear different cases.
Their judgment was about the case of suo motu notice taken by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial on February 22 about elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.
Speaking passionately about the need for new laws to limit the chief justice`s power, Sharif said if the legislation were not passed, “history would not forgive us”.
The suo motu power is based on the original jurisdiction of the court under Article 184 of the Constitution. However, its usage over the years has created an impression of partiality on the Chief Justices` part.
It was openly challenged for the first time by the two judges who were part of a bench that, in its 3-2 majority decision of March 1, directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to consult with President Arif Alvi for polls in Punjab and Governor Ghulam Ali for elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The five-member bench was reconstituted by Bandial, who took a suo motu action against the delay in elections and initially formed a nine-member bench to deal with the issue. However, two of the nine judges differed with the decision to take suo motu notice, while two other judges recused themselves, prompting the Chief Justice to form a new bench.
Justice Shah and Justice Mandokhail, in their detailed 28-page dissenting note, also rejected the 3-2 judgment in the suo motu case by saying that it was a 4-3 judgment to reject the maintainability of the case and lambasted the Chief Justice`s power to form a bench for important cases.
The coalition government led by Prime Minister Sharif, which is supporting the ECP`s decision to delay the election in the two provinces until October 8, is trying to use the parliament to curtail the powers of the Chief Justice.
The premier also said that the courts were treating Imran Khan favourably and were not ready to hold Khan accountable.
Sharif said that “enough is enough” and the law would take its course while the government would not allow “the favourite” to play with Pakistan.
The development comes as the top court is hearing a case about the decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan to postpone the provincial election till October 8, well beyond the 90 days deadline by the constitution to hold elections after the dissolution of an assembly.
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