Islamabad: The Pakistani government has tabled a bill in parliament that aims to limit the power of the chief justice office to take suo motu notices and constitute benches in the Supreme Court. The bill was introduced after it was approved by the federal cabinet.
The proposed bill called the ‘Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act, 2023’ was presented in the National Assembly on Tuesday evening by Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar. The bill, a copy of which is available with Gulf News, is aimed at amending the suo motu powers of the chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) and proposes that a three-member committee, comprising the chief justice and two senior most judges, would decide if the court should initiate suo motu proceedings. The decisions of the committee shall be made by the majority.
Suo motu amendments proposed
Regarding the top court’s original jurisdiction, the bill says any matter invoking the use of Article 184 (3), relating to suo motu notice, would be “first placed before the committee.” Article 184(3) of the Constitution of Pakistan gives the Supreme Court the power to assume jurisdiction over any “question of public importance with reference to the enforcement of any of the fundamental rights” either on the basis of a petition by any party or on its own as suo motu action in which the top judge takes legal action on their own to protect the interests of justice.
“If the committee is of the view that a question of public importance with reference to enforcement of any of the fundamental rights... 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 bill reads.
The bill also includes the right to appeal in suo motu cases which could be filed within 30 days and will then be fixed for a hearing in two weeks. “This bill allows intra-court appeal” which was limited in the past, Tarar said.
The law minister said there had been “consistent demands” for amendments as some suo motu notices in the past “harmed the institution’s sanctity and violated the trichotomy of powers, raising questions on the integrity of the top court.”
Meanwhile, on the same day, the National Assembly adopted a resolution presented by Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, which stated that the House considers the judiciary’s “unreasonable interference in political matters as the cause of political instability”. It asked the Supreme Court to refrain from interfering in “political matters” and the authority of the election regulator.
PM calls for amendments
Speaking on the floor of parliament, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called for the National Assembly to pass legislation that would limit the powers of the chief justice of Pakistan, stating that the voices from within the judiciary were a ‘new ray of hope’ that support the change.
The government swiftly introduced the bill after two Supreme Court judges, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, called for revisiting the power of the “one-man show” enjoyed by the office of the chief justice. The two judges called for a collegial system in the top court to ensure transparency and accountability in the dispensation of justice in a dissenting note released on March 27 after the top court took up a plea challenging the delay in provincial elections.
National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has referred the bill to the law and justice committee of the house for further discussion. After the committee’s approval, the National Assembly will take up the bill for a vote. It will then be forwarded to Senate for consideration.
Pakistan’s main opposition leader Imran Khan and his party leaders have criticised the bill and called it “an attempt to pressure the Supreme Court.”
He said he supports the judicial reforms but questioned the government’s intentions and accused it of trying to evade elections.
PTI senior vice president Fawad Chaudhry rejected the amendments and stated that “only an elected parliament should have the right to pass such legislation after a thorough debate.”