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ISLAMABAD: A day after two apex court judges called for limiting Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP)’s suo motu powers, the government on Tuesday introduced a bill in the National Assembly in a bid to curtail the discretionary powers to take suo motu notice by the top judge of the country.

The bill titled, the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023 was introduced in the house by Law and Justice Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, which was then referred to the committee concerned by NA Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf for further deliberation.

Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail – the apex court judges – had raised questions over the powers of the CJP, saying the apex court “cannot be dependent on the solitary decision of one man, the Chief Justice”.

“This court cannot be dependent on the solitary decision of one man, the Chief Justice, but must be regulated through a rule-based system approved by all judges of the court under Article 191 of the Constitution,” Justice Shah and Justice Mandokhail wrote in a 27-page dissenting note for the apex court’s March 1 verdict in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa elections suo motu.

Two SC judges for revisiting CJP’s power

Speaking on the floor of the house, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also sought parliamentary action in this regard, terming the dissenting note “a ray of hope”.

“The voices for change stemming from the judiciary itself is certainly a ray of hope for the country,” the prime minister – whose party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, has accused the judiciary of bench-fixing – said while speaking in the National Assembly earlier in the day.

The bill includes shifting the powers of taking suo motu notice from the chief justice to a three-member committee.

Moreover, the bill also includes a clause regarding the rights of challenging the notice which could be filed within 30 days and will then be fixed for a hearing in two weeks’ time.

According to the bill, “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 decisions of such a committee shall be by majority”, it adds.

Regarding suo moto powers, the bill seeks to ensure that any matter invoking exercise of original jurisdiction under Article 184 (3) shall be first placed before the committee of three senior-most judges.

“...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 Chapter I of Part II of 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,” it adds.

The legislation also allows appeals within 30 days of a verdict being issued on a suo motu case and enforces that a bench be constituted to hear such an appeal within 14 days.

“An appeal shall lie within thirty days from a final order of a bench of the Supreme Court who exercised jurisdiction under clause (3) of 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,” read the draft. The bill also grants the party to appoint counsel of its choice for filing a review application under Article 188 of the constitution. It should be noted that the counsel, for this purpose, shall mean an advocate of the Supreme Court.

“An application pleading urgency or seeking interim relief, filed in a cause, appeal or matter, shall be fixed for hearing within fourteen days from the date of its filing,” the bill read.

The Lawyers’ Welfare and Protection bill, 2023 was also introduced in the house.

Moreover, in a surprising move, the government unanimously passed a resolution against “unnecessary interference in political and administrative matters by (the) superior judiciary”.

The resolution, which was introduced by Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, said that the house rejects the “unnecessary interference of superior judiciary in political and administrative matters”.

Through the resolution, the house demanded that the elections of all the assemblies be held simultaneously and that the decision of the house was supported by a 4/3 ratio in case related to elections.

The resolution also states that the judiciary should not interfere in matters of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and that all cases related to the election should be heard by a full court.

Meanwhile, the federal cabinet has reportedly approved the draft law titled, Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure), 2023 to debate the legislation on judicial reforms in the parliament on Tuesday.

According to media reports, the meeting of the federal cabinet presided over by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has decided to approve the draft law, which will subsequently be put up to the National Assembly (NA).

Media reported as per law every cause appeal or matter before the supreme court shall be heard and disposed of by a bench constituted by the committee comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan and two senior-most judges in order of seniority.

Media reported that under the new legislation, the decision for suo-moto notice will be taken by three senior judges of the Supreme Court and they will have to fix the appeal within 14 days.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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