ISLAMABAD - As the government keeps driving its point home about the ‘untouchable supremacy’ of parliament, the Supreme Court also appears in no mood to compromise on its freedom and on Friday ordered the formation of a five-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to hear petitions filed against the new contempt of court law.
Other members of the bench will be Justice Shakirullah Jan, Justice Khilji Arif Hussain, Justice Jawad S Khawaja and Justice Tassadduq Hussain Jilani. The SC has already fixed July 23 as the date to commence hearing in 13 constitutional petitions filed against the newly-enacted law.
The federation, prime minister, National Assembly speaker, Senate chairman, attorney general, federal law minister and cabinet secretary have been named respondents in the cases. The court has also called Attorney General of Pakistan Irfan Qadir to assist the court in the case. The tussle between the two sides has turned cold ever since Yousaf Raza Gilani was shown the door, but it may again turn into a full-scale confrontation, keeping in view the commentary from each side.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had told a lawyers’ gathering in Quetta a few days ago that the Supreme Court would not allow “anyone” to make unconstitutional moves. “Now there will only be the supremacy of law and constitution in the country,” the CJP had said. Addressing lawyers at the Sindh High Court (SHC) some days later, Justice Chaudhry said the question of parliament’s supremacy over constitution was unjustified. He had said Article 8 empowered the superior courts to strike down any legislation that encroached upon the basic rights of the citizens, and it could also strike down any law that was in conflict with the constitution.
The CJ said whatever position or post one held, the law was the same for all. “Action on contempt of court was taken against the chief executive for not obeying the court order and he lost his position,” he added.
The chief justice said Article 2(A) of the constitution was the guarantor of judiciary’s independence.
“The courts of the country are under the constitution. There would be no compromise on protecting the independence of judiciary,” the CJP added.
He said obeying the law was necessary whatever consequences it entailed, adding that it was incumbent upon lawyers and judges to protect independence of the judiciary. On Thursday, President Asif Ali Zardari also directly jumped into the cold war between the executive and judiciary by declaring the parliament supreme in all respects. He said it was the duty of “everyone to accord parliament every respect” it was entitled to having been elected by the sovereign people of Pakistan. The ongoing series of subtle remarks and hints from both sides appears to be a harbinger of a new crisis that could again see the SC putting its foot down on the issue and the government pressing immunity for its members from every sort of questioning.