The National Assembly has passed a bill that limits the Suo Motu power of the Chief Justice. The bill was approved by the members of the National Assembly during a legislative session. The bill curtails the Chief Justice’s authority to take Suo Motu notice of any matter without a formal petition or complaint filed before the court.
Under the new legislation, the Chief Justice will only be able to take Suo Motu notice in cases of public interest or cases involving fundamental rights.
This means that the Chief Justice cannot use his Suo Motu power to intervene in any matter that does not meet the criteria set by the law.
In his address to the Law Minister, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari criticized the initiative, stating that it was “too little and too late”.
He further suggested that instead of being called a bill to limit the Chief Justice’s Suo Motu power, it should be referred to as a “judges empowerment” bill.
Bhutto Zardari’s remarks indicate that he believes the bill does not go far enough in addressing the issues of judicial overreach and the misuse of Suo Motu power.
He argues that the bill only serves to shift power from one individual, the Chief Justice, to the rest of the judges, rather than promoting transparency and accountability in the judiciary as a whole.
During a session of the National Assembly, Tarar addressed the assembly and stated that a constitutional amendment was unnecessary in relation to the proposed bill.
He cited Article 191 of the Constitution, which empowers the Assembly to legislate, and noted that the Supreme Court had been following constitutional and legal procedures since 1980.
Tarar also highlighted the support the bill had received from the country’s six bar councils.
North Waziristan MNA Mohsin Dawar introduced amendments that were accepted, and Tarar acknowledged PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s remarks that the bill was “too little, too late”.
The law minister expressed gratitude for the input of the NA Standing Committee on Law and Justice in the drafting of the bill.
He stated that the bill aimed to regulate the indiscriminate use of 184(3) and promote transparency in apex court proceedings. He further emphasized that all institutions must abide by the laws passed by Parliament.
Leader of the Opposition Raja Riaz praised the government’s efforts to introduce the bill and stated that it would uphold the freedom of the judiciary and rule of law.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif argued that Parliament was not usurping the powers of the Supreme Court but rather legislating within its constitutional right, and Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Mufti Abdul Shakoor emphasized that Parliament was a sovereign institution with the right to legislate on behalf of the people.
After the bill was passed, the session was adjourned.
Clauses of the bill
The National Assembly passed a bill with amendments today which addresses the constitution of benches in the apex court.
The bill states that a committee comprising the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) and the two senior-most judges will be responsible for constituting benches for every cause, matter or appeal before the Supreme Court. The decisions of the committee will be taken by a majority.
The bill also states that any matter invoking the use of Article 184(3) must first be placed before the aforementioned committee.
If the committee deems that a question of public importance with reference to the 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 members of the committee, for adjudication of the matter.
For matters requiring interpretation of the Constitution, the committee will compose a bench comprising no less than five Supreme Court judges.
Regarding appeals for any verdict by an apex court bench which exercised Article 184(3)‘s jurisdiction, the bill states that the appeal must be filed within 30 days of the bench’s order to a larger Supreme Court bench.
The appeal will be fixed for hearing within a period not exceeding 14 days. This right of appeal will also extend retroactively to those aggrieved persons against whom an order was made under Article 184(3) prior to the commencement of the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure), Bill 2023, provided the appeal is filed within 30 days of the act’s commencement.
The bill also grants parties the right to appoint their counsel of choice for filing a review application under Article 188 of the Constitution.
The bill further states that an application pleading urgency or seeking interim relief, filed in a cause, appeal or matter, shall be fixed for hearing within 14 days from the date of its filing.
The provisions of the bill will have effect notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, rules or regulations for the time being in force or judgement of any court, including the Supreme Court and high courts.
The National Assembly’s panel session, chaired by PML-N MNA Bashir Mehmood Virk, cleared the bill called “Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023” with a few additional amendments.
Among the amendments was the inclusion of the right to appeal against the suo motu verdicts taken up to 30 days before the passing of the act, as well as the amendment that any case involving the interpretation of the Constitution will not have a bench with fewer than five judges.
Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, Minister of State for Law and Justice Shahadat Awan, PML-N’s Mohsin Ranjha, and MNA Ramesh Kumar Vankwani were also present during the meeting to discuss the bill.
However, the 30-day limit was omitted from the final version of the bill passed by the National Assembly.
Tarar expresses disappointment over imprudent use of suo-motu power
Tarar criticizes “imprudent use” of suo motu power in opening remarks at committee meeting
In the opening remarks of the standing committee meeting, Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar criticized the “imprudent use” of the suo motu authority by the Supreme Court, saying that it has been used as a “one-man show” and that two senior judges have not been included in any important bench for the past year or so.
Tarar clarified that there is no need for a constitutional amendment to address this issue and that legislation is being enacted to fill the vacuum created by the lack of full court sessions of the Supreme Court in the past three years.
Tarar also emphasized that fundamental rights, such as the right to appeal against the decision of suo motu and the right to obtain the services of a lawyer of one’s own choice, should not be compromised.
He defended the government’s move, stating that the decision to enact legislation was taken after voices from within the Supreme Court also arose.
During the meeting, PPP MNA Syeda Nafeesa Shah raised concerns about the timing of the legislation and suggested that Article 184(3) of the Constitution may need to be amended.
Tarar responded by criticizing the imprudent use of Article 184(3) by former CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry and former CJP Mian Saqib Nisar for exceeding limits.
The bill seeking to amend the right to appeal against the suo motu verdicts and the number of judges in cases involving interpreting the Constitution was then approved by the standing committee.
Tarar stated that the Supreme Court Bar Association is of the view that Article 184(3) of the Constitution should also be amended.