The federal government of Pakistan took swift action on Tuesday in Islamabad by passing a bill that restricts the authority of the chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) in single-handedly forming benches and initiating suo motu proceedings. This bill was then presented to the National Assembly for approval. The move aims to limit the top judge’s unbridled powers, and the government acted expeditiously to ensure that the bill was swiftly implemented.
During the proceedings of the National Assembly, Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf commented on the order of the day and acknowledged that the proposed bill relating to the powers of the chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) needed to be passed on Tuesday.
However, he noted that the house felt that further deliberation on the bill was necessary and suggested that it be referred to the law and justice committee.
On Tuesday, events unfolded rapidly. The session of the National Assembly was addressed by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, and the federal cabinet gave approval for the proposed bill – The Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act, 2023.
The bill was tabled in the presence of the premier, who returned to attend the session after chairing the cabinet meeting.
Through the proposed bill, the federal government has decided to restrict the CJP’s powers to take suo motu notice and form benches independently, in response to the Supreme Court’s recent decision to order elections in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa within 90 days of their dissolution, among other decisions.
In the cabinet meeting, the federal government amended the CJP’s suo motu powers, stating that the top judge of the country could not automatically initiate suo motu proceedings.
The proposed amendment suggested that three judges of the Supreme Court should decide if the court should initiate suo motu proceedings in a specific matter.
The proposed legislation, The Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act, 2023, aims to curtail the powers of the chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) to take suo motu notice and constitute benches on his own.
Section 2 of the proposed law states that a committee comprising the CJP and two senior-most judges, in order of seniority, shall constitute every bench to hear and dispose of every cause, appeal, or matter before the Supreme Court. The decisions of the committee shall be made by majority.
Section 3 of the proposed law states that any matter invoking the exercise of original jurisdiction under clause (3) of Article 184 of the Constitution shall first be placed before the committee constituted under section 2.
If the committee considers that a question of public importance is involved with reference to the enforcement of any of the fundamental rights conferred by Chapter I of Part II of the Constitution, it shall constitute a bench of not less than three judges, which may also include members of the committee, for adjudication of the matter.
The law minister clarified in the National Assembly (NA) that the number of judges can be five or seven or more, but not less than three.
Section 4 of the proposed law provides for an intra-court appeal within 30 days from a final order of a bench of the Supreme Court that exercised jurisdiction under clause (3) of Article 184 of the Constitution to a larger bench of the Supreme Court.
Such appeal shall be fixed for hearing within a period not exceeding fourteen days.
Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, while explaining the proposed legislation in NA, stated that the federal cabinet’s decision to limit CJP’s powers through this legislation is in line with recent speeches by the prime minister and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, calling for the regulation of the CJP’s suo motu powers.
They argued that it should be a collective decision of the SC judges, just like the prime minister takes a collective decision through the federal cabinet.
The law minister also regretted that an appeal against the Supreme Court’s ruling in May 2022, wherein it ruled by a majority of 3-2 decision that defecting lawmakers’ votes could not be counted, is still pending for hearing.
This decision had led to the changing of the Punjab government, as the then-chief minister, Hamza Shehbaz, was elected to the post with the help of 24 votes of PTI dissident MPAs.
However, the SC decision on the presidential reference seeking interpretation of Article 63-A had turned the tables on PML-N and paved the way for PTI’s candidate Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi to become Punjab CM.
In the proposed law, section 5 stipulates that any party filing a review application under Article 188 of the Constitution has the right to appoint counsel of their choice.
The law minister later explained that this amendment was made to counter the SC rules that currently prohibit the changing of counsel.
Section 6 of the proposed law deals with applications for urgent matters. It states that any application filed pleading urgency or seeking interim relief in a cause, appeal or matter, must be fixed for hearing within 14 days from the date of filing.
Lastly, the proposed law’s final section states that the provisions of the act will override any other laws, rules, or regulations currently in force, as well as any judgment made by any court, including the Supreme Court and high court.
“Lower House of Pakistan’s Parliament Passes Resolution Blaming Judiciary for Political Instability”
Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Marriyum Aurangzeb, presented a resolution to the lower house of the parliament, stating that the House believes that the judiciary’s interference in political matters that are not related to its jurisdiction has caused political instability in the country.
The government’s spokesperson referred to the Supreme Court’s suo motu proceeding concerning elections in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and stated that the House not only supports the decision of four judges of the top court against three judges but also demands that the decision be implemented.
The spokesperson added that the House expects the top court to refrain from interfering in political and administrative matters.
The Federal Information Minister, Marriyum Aurangzeb, presented a resolution in the lower house of parliament, which called attention to the importance of political stability for economic stability in the country.
The resolution emphasized that free and fair elections, as mandated by Article 218 of the Constitution, were necessary to achieve this stability.
The resolution further urged that the Supreme Court should refrain from interfering in the constitutional powers of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and allow it to hold elections when the conditions were suitable.
The resolution also highlighted that simultaneous elections should be held for all assemblies under the caretaker setup, in accordance with Article 224 of the Constitution, to ensure real political stability.
The House recognized the ECP as an independent constitutional body responsible for holding such elections and expressed its support for the ECP’s constitutional powers.
Marriyum Aurangzeb also stated that constitutional matters requiring collective wisdom should be heard by a full court of the Supreme Court.
The resolution was unanimously approved by the National Assembly, which emphasized that the Supreme Court should not interfere in political matters and called for simultaneous elections to ensure political stability.