Federal govt tables bill moderating CJP's powers in National Assembly

Federal govt tables bill moderating CJP's powers in National Assembly


Imran sees legislation as an attempt to mount pressure on judiciary

ISLAMABAD (Dunya News) – The federal government on Tuesday night tabled the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023 in the National Assembly seeking amendments to moderate Chief Justice of Pakistan's (CJP) powers to take suo motu notice.

Federal Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar presented the bill. He said on the floor that they witnessed the times when suo motu notices had [even] been taken on the unavailability of parking facilities in the hospitals adding that suo motu notice was being criticised. “Present laws empower the CJP to take suo motu notice and a person used the authority in the history in a way which harmed the judiciary’s reputation”, he added. The bar council, he said, proposed to review the procedure to constitute a bench in 2018.

He said they had faced gross injustices in the past adding that it must be allowed to file an intra-court appeal after the SC had issued a verdict [on the suo motu]. “Some suo motu notices ridiculed the judiciary in history”, he added. The dissenting notes of two SC judges, he said, raised concerns that “one man power show” might harm the institution’s dignity. 

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The bill was later sent to the NA Standing Committee on Law and Justice that would meet on Wednesday. Following the committee's approval, the bill would be sent for final approval by the lower house, thus ultimately paving its way for debtae in the Senate. At the end, President Dr Arif Alvi would ratify the bill.

The structure of the National Assembly suggests that the ruling coalition enjoys the support of 180 members while the opposition has only 37 members including that of PTI's 29. The PTI had resigned from the NA after former PM Imran Khan was ousted through a no-confidence vote, however, the NA Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf did not accept resignations immediately. Later in 2023, when Mr Ashraf accepted the resignations, it brewed a political fiasco as the PTI demanded the Speaker on multiple occassions to revoke the resignations.

Earlier, the federal cabinet had approved the bill to debate the legislation on judicial reforms in the parliament amid the Supreme Court's (SC) under-hearing suo motu notice on holding elections in Punjab Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

The debate heated up when two members of the apex court’s five-member bench, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, expressed reservations on the CJP’s “one man power” jurisdiction to take suo motu notices.

Read Also: Justices Minallah, Yahya question very spirit of suo motu

The bill proposed the right to appeal against the suo motu notice within 30 days of the verdict on the sou motu, and to bind the top court to fix the plea for hearing within 14 days. As for taking the suo motu notice, the proposal pertained to empower three SC judges, including the CJP, to decide.

However, the PTI rejected the proposed amendments. Taking to Twitter, PTI senior vice president Fawad Chaudhry wrote, "We condemn the government's continuous attacks on the Supreme Court and reject the proposed amendments. It is only the prerogative of the elected parliament to approve the amendments after a thorough debate. We vehemently condemn the attempt to sow divisions in the judiciary".

PTI general secretary Asad Umar termed it "an attack on SC's independence".

Earlier, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had demanded the House to make legislation to reduce powers being enjoyed by the CJP on the NA floor. Calling the judgments of the two judges a ray of hope, PM Shehbaz said, “History wouldn’t forgive us if we stay away from legislation”.

Justices Shah and Mandokhail had, in their dissenting notes, remarked that four SC judges, in a seven-member bench, rejected the CJP’s suo motu notice. They further remarked that the jurisdiction of the “one man power show” must be reviewed, adding that the apex court could not be left to one man’s authority and it was time to end the CJP office’s jurisdiction to enjoy powers to take suo motu notice.

When caprice and convenience of the judges takes over, we enter the era of an “imperial Supreme Court”, the judgment read. A full court must be constituted to constitute policy regarding the jurisdiction on taking suo motu notice, added the judgment.

The matter reached the SC after the ECP had postponed the Punjab election, earlier scheduled to be held on April 30, until October 8. The PTI had contended that the ECP violated the apex court’s order directing the ECP to hold elections in Punjab and KP within ninety days of the dissolution of the assemblies. Punjab assembly was dissolved on Jan 14 and KP assembly stood dissolved on Jan 18.

At the outset of the hearing, the CJP questioned whether the ECP had the authority to extend the date of elections. “If the ECP has the authority [to extend the date], then the matter will be over,” he remarked.

Justice Mandokhail questioned if the assemblies could be dissolved on the whim of one man, adding that elections in the country would be held anyway but the question was which body had been authorised to extend them beyond 90 days.