Joint sitting of parliament again approves bill to curtail CJP’s powers

ISLAMABAD: In a defiant mode, the joint session of the Parliament on Monday reapproved the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023, aimed at curtailing the suo motu powers of Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial.

The bill was moved by Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar in the House who said the bill was sent to President Arif Alvi for approval but he returned to reconsideration.

Addressing the House, Tarar said they have increased the power and brought transparency in the affairs of the Supreme Court through this bill. He said the Supreme Court rules were framed during the dictator’s tenure but now this law is made to eliminate the effect of the one-man show.

He told the House that the President said that this law is an interference in the powers of the Supreme Court while they have given the authority to the judges of the Supreme Court and this law has also been appreciated by the lawyers’ community.

Timeline of the Bill

The government moved the bill in National Assembly on March 28 and subsequently, the bill titled ‘Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023′ was referred to committee.

Addressing the House, the law minister who moved the bill, said in the past, the Supreme Court took four Suo-Motu notices in a day on administrative matters while there has been a lot of criticism regarding the rules of the apex court of the country.

The law minister in favour of the bill said some Suo-Motu notices in the past did not lead to an increase in the respect of the institution and the decisions of many notices have affected the sanctity of the SC.

Later, National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf referred to the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023 to the concerned committee of the House for consideration.

Before the assembly session, on the same day, the federal cabinet approved the Supreme Court Amendment Bill 2023 to hand over the Suo-Motu powers to the senior judges’ committee.

On March 29, NA passed judicial reforms bill to curtail CJP’s suo motu powers. After passing the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023 in which the right to appeal against the decisions on the Suo Motu notices has also been given to the parties.

So now the former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, and other affected parties by the decisions of the Suo Motu notice cases will be able to avail the right of appeal.

The judicial reforms bill split the PTI lawmakers on whether to support or oppose the legislation.

PTI legislators opposed the bill while renegade members supported the legislation. Leader of the Opposition Raja Riaz threw his weight behind the judicial reforms bill, saying the legislation was jointly moved by the government and the Opposition.

Another PTI rebel MNA Ahmad Hussain Dahar extended congratulations to the movers of the bill. “Being a lawyer myself I must say this was our old demand. I will salute all if this legislation becomes a law,” he added.

Earlier, National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law has approved the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023.

The NA committee on Wednesday gave its assent to the legislation by incorporating three amendments in it.

On Tuesday, National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf had referred the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023 to the committee of the House for consideration.

Federal Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar had tabled the bill in the House and addressed the legislators about the harmful practices of the suo-motu notices in the past.

Addressing the House, the law minister said in the past the Supreme Court took four suo-motu notices in a day on administrative matters while there has been a lot of criticism regarding the rules of the apex court of the country.

Earlier, the federal cabinet had also approved the Supreme Court Amendment Bill 2023 paving way for handing over the suo-motu powers to a senior judges’ committee.

The cabinet also decided to grant a right of appeal on suo-motu. It is proposed in the bill that three senior-most judges of the Supreme Court will decide the suo-motu notice.

While there is also a proposal to grant a right to file an appeal within 30 days against the suo-motu decision and the appeal should be fixed for hearing within 14 days of its filing.

While commenting on the passing of a motion on voting for the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023 in the National Assembly, Federal Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar said on the floor of the assembly that law for the judicial reforms should have been passed earlier as Bilawal Bhutto rightly remarked.

“All the bar councils of Pakistan have praised this law,” the law minister said, adding that approval of 47 laws in two hours was part of the history.

“There was a full court bench four years ago. The formation of three-member bench created problems repeatedly. The Parliament will fulfil its responsibility to remove the ambiguity,” he stated.

MNA Mohsin Dawar moved an amendment to the bill. Section-by-section approval of the bill continued in the National Assembly till the filing of the report.

On March 30–Senate approved judicial reforms bill with 60-19 votes. The bill received 60 votes in favour and 19 against it, amid a chaotic scene in the Senate as PTI lawmakers protested the decision.

The bill proposed that an appeal shall lie within 30 days from an order of a bench of the Supreme Court who exercised jurisdiction under clause (3) of the Article 184 of the Constitution to a larger bench of the Supreme Court and such appeal shall, for hearing, be fixed within a period not exceeding fourteen days.

According to the bill, the right of appeal under sub-section (1) shall also be available to an aggrieved person against whom an order has been made under clause (3) of Article 184 of the Constitution, prior to the commencement of this Act provided that the appeal under this subsection shall be filed within thirty days of the commencement of this Act.

According to the statement of objects and reasons of the bill, the bill would also ensure the right of the free trail and due process of Law as enshrined under Article 10A of the Constitution.

Earlier, moving the bill in the House, Minister for Law and Justice Azam Nazeer Tarar said that it was the demand of the bar associations and councils to introduce the bill and they have supported the bill. “This bill was an old demand of the Bar Council which said that indiscriminate use of 184(3) should be stopped,” he added.

He said it was prerogative of the Parliament to do legislation under Article 191 of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court’s rules were framed under Article 191 of the constitution and were promulgated in 1980.

He went on to say that Article 184 was excessively used in the past and some cases even executives were also pushed into the dock. The country has to bear hefty billions of dollars in loss in cases like Reko Diq and Pakistan Steel Mills etc, he added.

He said the bill aims to have transparent proceedings in the apex court and it also includes the right to appeal.

He said that all institutions have to follow the laws passed by the Parliament. The minister quoted the Article 191 of the Constitution which says that subject to the constitution and law, the Supreme Court may make rules regulating the practice and procedure of the Court.

Tarar said that the bill includes the right to appeal, adding that it was time for the Parliament to legislate on it now.

On April 8, President Alvi returns judicial reforms bill to Parliament unsigned. In a series of tweets uploaded on President of Pakistan’s officials twitter handle on Saturday, President Alvi said he had returned the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023 for reconsideration to the Parliament as per the provisions of the Article 75 of the Constitution, stating that the bill prima-facie travels beyond the competence of the Parliament and can be assailed as colourable legislation.

Arif Alvi said he thought it fit and proper to return the bill, in accordance with the Constitution, with the request for reconsideration in order to meet the scrutiny about its validity (if assailed in the court of law).

The President argued, “Thus, the Bill prima-facie travels beyond the competence of the Parliament and can be assailed as a colourable legislation. The Constitution confers the Supreme Court with Appellate Jurisdiction (Articles 185 – 212), Advisory (Article 186), Review (Article 186) and Original Jurisdiction (Article 184). Article 184(3), the focus of the Bill relates to the original jurisdiction of the Court – providing for the mode and manner for invoking it and providing Appeal”.

Arif Alvi said, “The idea may be laudable but can such a purpose be achieved without amending the provisions of relevant Articles of the Constitution – established law is that the provisions of the Constitution cannot be amended by an ordinary law as the Constitution is a higher law – father of laws – a Constitution is not an ordinary law, but rather an embodiment of fundamental principles, higher law, and law above other laws”.

Mian Abrar
Mian Abrar
The writer heads Pakistan Today's Islamabad Bureau. He has a special focus on counter-terrorism and inter-state relations in Asia, Asia Pacific and South East Asia regions. He tweets as @mian_abrar and also can be reached at [email protected]

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