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Monday, May 20, 2024  
11 Dhul-Qadah 1445  

Committee will discuss bill curtailing powers of chief justice of Pakistan

Law minister urges committee to discuss it by Wednesday

The National Assembly sent a bill, aimed at curtailing the power of the chief justice, to the committee on law on Tuesday in view of the “sense of the House” after lawmakers called for a detailed debate on it.

“Order of the day said that the bill should be passed today but after a sense of the house both the bills [related to Supreme Court tweaks and lawyers welfare] are referred to the committee concerned on law and justice and it should present the report at the earliest,” NA Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf said.

The development comes after a detailed dissenting note of two Supreme Court judges, who were part of the bench formed to hear the suo motu procedings on the delay in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa elections, that was released on Monday. They challenged the discretionary powers of the chief justice.

Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, who moved the bills, supported the call. But he urged the committee to do it by tomorrow (Wednesday) so that there should have been an accelerated process to avoid any crisis.

“I would say that now there is a crisis situation, every day it is being discussed in media,” the law minister said, “most of the members are here and there is a flow and tempo”. He suggested that the committee should be asked to have a “healthy session” as the bill was just five clauses.

The bill was presented hours after the federal cabinet gave a go-ahead to the bills.

“The point of view of two judges released yesterday has prompted another wave of concern. This apprehended that the division in the institution because of the ‘one-man show’ should not harm the sanctity of the institution,” Tarar said on the floor of the house.

The Ministry of Law and Justice proposed the bill against the backdrop of the detailed dissenting note by the two apex court judges and the cabinet unanimously approved it and advised it to present in Parliament.

Salient features of bill

  • Title: This act should be called Supreme Court Practice and Procedure Act 2023. This would be its nomenclature. It shall come into force at once
  • Constitution of benches: Every cause, appeal or matter before the Supreme Court shall be heard and disposed of via bench, which will be constituted by a committee comprising the chief justice of Pakistan and two senior most judges in order of seniority. The decision of the committee shall be by the majority.
  • Exercise of original jurisdiction by Supreme Court: Any matter invoking exercise of original jurisdiction under clause 3 of Article 184 of the Constitution (any matter on which suo motu notice or the original jurisdiction of Supreme Court) shall be first placed before the committee constituted under Section 2 for examination and if Committee is of the view that a question of public importance with reference to enforcement of any of the fundamental rights conferred by Chapter I of Part II of the Constitution is involved, it shall constitute a bench comprising not less than three judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan which may also include the members of the Committee, for adjudication of the matter. (At least to the three-member bench, it can also increase)
  • Intra-court appeal: Intra-court appeal is provided in Section 4 and it shall lie within 30 days from the final order of a bench of the Supreme Court that exercises jurisdiction under Clause 3 to a larger bench of the Supreme Court and such appeal shall for hearing be fixed within a period of not exceeding 14 days.
  • Right to appoint counsel of choice
  • Application for fixation of urgent matters

PPP leader Barjees Tahir called for a detailed discussion on the tweaks related to the apex court’s rules, urging the House to send the bill to the standing committee.

PTI leader Ramesh Vankwani hailed the bill, however, he also stressed the need for referring to the committee in order to make it “more effective”. Another leader of the former ruling party, Ahmed Hussain Deharr, described the bill as a “need of the day”.

The lower house of Parliament approved a resolution seeking the holding of elections of all the assemblies at the same time.

Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, who moved the bill, read out the text of the resolution that urged the judiciary to avoid interfering in the political and administrative affairs of the state.

“The Election Commission of Pakistan should be allowed to hold fair elections. Political stability is necessary for economic stability. Elections of all the assemblies should be held simultaneously. Cases involving collective issues should be heard by the full court,” it said.

Cabinet gives green signal

Earlier on Tuesday, the federal cabinet approved the bill and the government plans to introduce it in the assembly later today.

A draft of the bill, seen by Aaj News proposes delegating the powers of the chief justice to take suo motu notices and constitute benches to a three-member committee consisting of the CJP and two seniormost judges.

Justice Qazi Faez Isa, who will become the chief justice in September, and Justice Tariq Masood are the two senior judges currently.

“Every cause, appeal or matter before the Supreme Court shall be heard or disposed of by a bench constituted by the committee comprising the Chief Justice and two senior most judges in order of seniority,” the bill proposes.

“The decisions of the committee shall be by majority.”

Reports had emerged on Tuesday that the cabinet would discuss taking away the CJP’s sole right to take suo motu notices in Tuesday’s meeting. Sources also said that the right might be handed over to a full court.

The government is aiming to change how benches are constituted — a right that is now in the hands of the CJP.

The subject of the CJP’s power to take suo motu notices and constitute benches has come into sharper focus in recent days especially since Justice Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Jamal Mandokhail issued a dissenting judgment in the election delay case.

The two judges said that the decision had been a 4-3 verdict against the suo motu notice, not the 3-2 verdict that it was originally pitched as. They also said that the chief justice was running the court as a ‘one man show’.

PM Shehbaz also mentioned the judgment in the cabinet meeting and said that ‘history would not forgive the government’ if they did not take this opportunity to improve the procedures of the country’s top court.

PM Shehbaz urges parliament to act against ex-premier Khan

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif appealed to parliament on Tuesday to act against his predecessor Imran Khan over accusations that his party was involved in the violence that erupted when police tried to arrest him for alleged corruption.

The clashes occurred earlier this month after Khan’s supporters prevented police and paramilitary Rangers from detaining him over his failure to appear before the court in the case involving allegations that he unlawfully sold state gifts during his 2018-22 tenure as premier. He denies any wrongdoing.

Last week Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah asked for a parliamentary ruling to empower authorities to crack down on Khan’s party and his supporters.

“Did you ever see law enforcement officers going to serve a court summons on someone and then being attacked with petrol bombs?” Sharif asked lawmakers in a speech telecast live.

“I’m appealing to this parliament that these things need to be taken care of immediately. This house has to take action today if we want to save Pakistan,” he said, adding: “Enough is enough. Now law has to take its course.”

Sharif did not spell out what action he wanted the parliament to take against Khan.

Some of Sharif’s ministers have called for a ban on Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, but it was not clear whether the government was seeking this from parliament.

Sharif’s coalition government, which took office after a parliamentary vote of no confidence ousted former cricket star Khan last year, has alleged that Khan’s supporters had militants among them.

Since being removed, Khan has been demanding early elections and holding protests across the country to press his case.

The clashes between Khan’s supporters and security forces have brought a new flare-up of political instability to the nuclear-armed country of 220 million people, which is in the midst of a crippling economic crisis.

Khan says the government and the military are trying to stop him from contesting the next election, scheduled for November. Both the government and military deny this. If convicted in any case, Khan could be disqualified from the vote.

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