Bill to clip CJP’s suo motu power lands in NA

Muhammad Anis
Wednesday, Mar 29, 2023

ISLAMABAD: In an attempt to limit the discretionary powers of the chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) to take suo motu notice, Federal Minister for Law and Justice Azam Nazeer Tarar on Tuesday tabled the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023.

The development came a day after two apex court judges — Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail — questioned the powers of the CJP, saying the apex court “cannot be dependent on the solitary decision of one man, the chief justice”.

According to the bill, any matter invoking the exercise of original jurisdiction in case of suo motu notice under Clause 3 of Article 184 of the Constitution will first be placed before a committee comprising the chief justice of Pakistan and two other senior-most judges of the Supreme Court. The committee will take the decision by majority, it says.

Tarar said the federal cabinet had also approved the bill which was under consideration for the last many days. He requested the National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to refer the bill to the relevant National Assembly standing committee. “The rules also provide and the House in the past allowed passage of many important bills without being referred to the standing committee, but I will request this bill to be viewed by the committee in a detailed session,” he said.

The Supreme Court Practice and Procedure Bill, 2023 shall become an Act of the Parliament, once approved by the Senate and signed by the president. The Section 2 of the bill regarding the constitution of benches says every cause, appeal, or matter before the Supreme Court shall be heard and disposed of by a bench constituted by the committee comprising the chief justice of Pakistan and two senior-most judges, in order of seniority.

The Section 3 of the bill says any matter invoking the exercise of original jurisdiction under Article 184(3) of the Constitution shall be first placed before a committee constituted under Section 2 for examination and if the committee is of the view that a question of public importance with reference to enforcement of any of the fundamental rights conferred by 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.

The Section 4 of the bill says an appeal shall be filed within 30 days of the final order of a bench of the Supreme Court that exercised the jurisdiction under Article 184(3) of the Constitution to a larger bench of the Supreme Court and such appeal for hearing be fixed within a period not exceeding 14 days.

The bill further provides that for filing a review application under Article 188 of the Constitution, a party shall have the right to appoint a counsel of its choice. The bill further provides that an application pleading urgency or seeking interim relief, filed in a cause, appeal or matter shall be fixed for hearing within 14 days of its filing.

Meanwhile, the National Assembly also passed a resolution considering undue interference of the judiciary in political matters as a reason for political instability in the country.

The resolution moved by Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb said that the House in suo motu notice 1/2023, supports the verdict and opinion of four judges and demands implementation of the same. “The House feels that the judiciary will refrain from interfering in administrative and political matters,” the resolution said.

The resolution maintained that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was an independent, sovereign and constitutional institution and was responsible for the conduct of free and transparent elections under Article 218 of the Constitution. “There should be no interference in constitutional powers of the ECP and let it conduct elections in a suitable environment as per its discretionary powers,” the resolution said.

The House also maintained that political stability was a must for economic stability. The House also called for holding elections to the National Assembly and provincial on the same day as per Article 224 and in the true spirit of Article 218 of the Constitution. The House also demanded constitutional matters, where collective wisdom is required, should be heard by a full court bench of the apex court.

Earlier, Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif said that Imran Khan would never be allowed to play with the country’s interests and called upon the parliament to move legislation in the light of the verdict of two honourable judges of the Supreme Court. The prime minister said voices heard from within the judiciary are like a ray of hope which will allow the values of justice to be upheld.

Speaking on the floor of the National Assembly, he said it would have to be decided whether the Constitution and law are upheld or the law of jungle prevails. He said that in the light of the verdict released by two honourable judges of the Supreme Court, the House would have to move for legislation to decide whether millions of people of the country would get relief or a Ladla would continue to get relief. “Today, the legislators have to decide whether they are with the law of the jungle or rule of Constitution and law,” he said.

The prime minister also read out the operative part of the verdict of Justice Mansoor Ali Khan and Justice Mandokhail: “Therefore, we are of the opinion that dismissal of the suo moto proceedings and connected constitution petitions had become the Order of the Court by a majority of four to three of the seven-member bench, binding upon all the concerned,” the prime minister said, adding it was the crux of the verdict given by two honourable Judges.

He also termed as a ray of hope the 4-3 decision of judges in a suo moto case about elections that dismissed proceedings contending that the Chief Justice of Pakistan does not have the power to restructure benches without the consent of respective judges. Shehbaz said the parliament would have to play its constitutional role in legislation and prevent the country from reaching a dead end. “Our coming generations will not forgive us if we fail to play our constitutional role in these circumstances,” he said. He said that the nation is celebrating 50 years of the 1973 Constitution, which categorically divided powers between the institutions and drew a red line between them and it should not be crossed. “Today, havoc is being played between powers of sitting parliament and judiciary,” he said.

Shehbaz Sharif also termed Imran Khan as the biggest fraud of the country’s history, saying that there could be no talks with him unless he apologised to the nation for his misdeeds and for damaging national interests and playing havoc with the Constitution and law. “There can be no talks with a person who does not surrender to the Constitution and law,” the prime minister said.

Shehbaz Sharif said that a blue-eyed like Imran Khan had been playing havoc with the Constitution and does not appear before courts and gets extensions and bails from courts in the darkness of night. “He is getting bails from every court across the country,” he said.

He recalled that when they were in the opposition, the top leadership of political parties, along with their family members, including women, appeared before courts. He said that nobody took notice when a daughter of the ‘nation’ was arrested on the night of Eid when she came to meet her father in prison.

He said Imran Khan was the same Ladla who along with his supporters invaded the Parliament House and hung dirty clothes on the fences of the building. “He also used derogatory language for the Parliament and abused the respected house but also continued to pocket salary as a member,” he said. He said that during his nearly four years of tenure, the Imran Khan government increased foreign debts by 70 percent but did not launch a single new development project in the country.

Shehbaz Sharif pointed out that a narrative was built that the coalition government was imported and was created with the support of the United States. “But only a few days ago, Imran took a somersault and backed out of his earlier stance and said that there was no US conspiracy.” He said that the Imran Khan government angered friendly countries and their leadership whereas the present government was making day and night efforts to promote relations with those states.

He said that Imran Khan had hired US firms against huge payments for lobbying in his favour. Imran also created divisions within the society but nobody took notice of what he had been doing. He recalled that the appointments of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Army Staff (CJCSC) and COAS were made purely on merit, saying that both General Syed Asim Munir and General Sahir Shamshad were senior-most among the three-star army officers. “General Syed Asim Munir is highly professional and is also the recipient of the sword of honour,” he said but regretted that a smear campaign was launched against the military leadership.

He also regretted Imran Khan’s criticism of the armed forces, which made enemies like India happy, mentioning that 80,000 Pakistanis, including officers and jawans of the army and law enforcement agencies, had sacrificed their lives to end the menace of terrorism. But during Imran Khan’s tenure, terrorists returned to their safe havens, asking for the issue to be investigated.

Shehbaz Sharif called upon the Chief Justice of Pakistan to order a forensic audit of leaked audio of a judge of the Supreme Court. “If what was said in the audio was true, then truth should come forth,” he said. He said that politicians are put behind bars within no time but how many judges were shown the door on corruption charges. “The parliamentarians should decide if they continue to act as a herd of cattle or can decide their future for themselves,” he said.

Federal Minister Syed Naveed Qamar, while kicking off the debate on constitutional and political issues as proposed by the prime minister, said that collective wisdom should come from the Supreme Court and not a few judges. He was of the opinion that there has been unnecessary and frequent use of suo motu notices. Dr Ramesh Kumar, while talking about constitutional and political matters, observed that the country’s leadership cannot address international issues unless national issues were addressed and resolved.

The opposition leader in the National Assembly, Raja Riaz, said that Imran Khan in his nearly four-year tenure did nothing except play havoc with the Constitution and the country’s economy. He said that the parliament would have to prove with its actions that the parliamentarians support an independent judiciary and not a single person.

Saleh Muhammad of PTI said it was the Election Commission of Pakistan which was violating the Constitution by not holding elections of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies within 90 days of the dissolution of the two houses.

MQM’s Salahuddin said that Imran Khan claimed he ran the affairs of the country while following the model of the state of Madina but instead he looted resources of the state and sold out gifts received from friendly countries.

Jamaat-e-Islami’s Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali said that the manifesto of his party guarantees that all the institutions be strengthened and made free of political interference. He said that both the government and opposition should demonstrate patience and tolerance and defuse polarisation.