Joint session of Pakistan's Parliament passes bill to curb powers of chief justice
Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar presented the bill in the joint sitting of the house held with National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf in the chair
A joint session of Pakistan's Parliament on Monday passed a bill to curb the powers of the chief justice of the Supreme Court regarding suo motu cases and the constitution of benches, amidst strong opposition from Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.
"Parliament in its Joint session passes 'The Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023'," the National Assembly or the lower house announced in a tweet.
The development comes two days after President Arif Alvi returned a bill passed by both houses of parliament for reconsideration, saying the proposed legislation is beyond the jurisdiction of the legislative body.
Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar presented the bill in the joint sitting of the house held with National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf in the chair.
During the much-anticipated sitting, the House approved an amendment to the bill, under which a meeting of a committee of the judges will be convened to devise rules and regulations regarding the suo motu matter. The amendment was proposed by a ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lawmaker.
Addressing the joint session, the law minister said that voices against the chief justice's suo motu (on his own initiative) powers were arising from within the top court.
On March 27, two judges of the apex court raised questions over the powers of the CJP, saying the SC “cannot be dependent on the solitary decision of one man, the Chief Justice”.
Under the Constitution, if the bill returned by the president is passed by Parliament, it should be sent to the president and would become law after ten days even if he refuses to endorse it.
Opposition PTI senior leader Fawad Chaudhry said on Monday that his party rejects this law. "The bill will just go in the trash. We reject this law," he tweeted.
Pakistan is witnessing a rift between the judiciary and the government after a three-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Uma Ata Bandial fixed May 14 as the date for elections to the Punjab Assembly and quashed the Election Commission's decision to extend the date of the poll from April 10 to October 8.
The apex court's verdict was criticised by the coalition government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, which has refused to accept it. The government is keen to curb the suo motu powers of the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), Bandial.
The Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023 was approved by both houses of Parliament last month and sent to the president for assent. The president said that the proposed legislation was prima facie beyond the jurisdiction of the parliament as only the Supreme Court has the power to make laws to regulate its business.
"The Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023 travels beyond the competence of the parliament and can be assailed as a colourable legislation,” Alvi, a member of former prime minister Imran Khan's PTI party before he became president, said in his reply to the government.
The bill was approved by the federal Cabinet on March 28. The National Assembly passed it after a few amendments suggested by the Standing Committee on Law and Justice. On March 30, it was passed by the Senate.
The bill states that every cause, matter, or appeal before the apex court would be heard and disposed of by a bench constituted by a committee comprising the chief justice and the two senior-most judges. It added that the decisions of the committee would be taken by a majority.
On exercising the apex court’s original jurisdiction, called suo motu powers, the bill said that any matter invoking the use of Article 184(3) would first be placed before the committee.
Alvi adroitly used his limited powers under the Constitution by first wasting precious time without signing the bill and then sending it back to Parliament with his observation, which will give more time to the Opposition party to evolve a strategy to counter it.
On Monday, the law minister read out the message of the president who returned the bill for reconsideration and said that "the president used inappropriate words while returning this bill and used a biased approach”.
He said that Alvi should think “as the President rather than a political worker”.
The federal minister said it was the demand of the bar associations and councils to introduce the bill and they had supported the bill. This bill, he said, was an old demand of the bar council which said that the indiscriminate use of 184(3) should be stopped. The lawmakers belonging to the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) opposed the bill but the government enjoyed a majority and easily passed the bill.