Fed govt tables bill moderating CJP's powers in national assembly

The federal government on Tuesday night tabled the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023 in the National Assembly seeking amendments to moderate Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial’s power to take suo motu notice.

Federal Law Minister Azam Nazri Tarar presented the bill. He said on the floor that we witnessed the times when suo motu notices had [even] been taken on the unavailability of parking facilities in the hospitals adding that suo motu notice was being criticized. “Present laws empower the CJP to take suo motu notice adding that a person used the authority in the history in a way which harmed the judiciary’s reputation”, he added. The bar council, he said, proposed to review the procedure to constitute a bench in 2018.

He said we had faced gross injustices in the past adding that it must be allowed to file an intra-court appeal after the SC had issued a verdict. “Some suo motu notices ridiculed the judiciary in history”, he added. The dissenting notes of two SC judges, he said, raised concerns that “one man power show” might not harm the institution’s dignity. 

The structure of the National Assembly suggests that the ruling coalition enjoys the support of 180 members while the opposition has only 37 members including PTI's 29. The PTI had resigned from the NA after former PM Imran Khan was ousted, however, the NA Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf did not accept resignations immediately. Later in 2023, when Mr Ashraf accepted the resignations, it brewed a political fiasco as the PTI demanded the Speaker on multiple occassions to revoke the resignations.

Earlier, the federal cabinet had approved the bill to debate the legislation on judicial reforms in the parliament amid the Supreme Court's (SC) under-hearing suo motu notice on holding elections in Punjab Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

The debate heated up when two members of the apex court’s five-member bench, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, expressed reservations on the CJP’s “one man power” jurisdiction to take suo motu notices.

The bill proposed the right to appeal against the suo motu notice within 30 days of the verdict on the sou motu, and to bind the top court to fix the plea for hearing within 14 days. As for taking the suo motu notice, the proposal pertained to empower three SC judges, including the CJP, to decide.

However, the PTI rejected the proposed amendments. Taking to Twitter, PTI senior vice president Fawad Chaudhry wrote, "We condemn the government's continuous attacks on the Supreme Court and reject the proposed amendments. It is only the prerogative of the elected parliament to approve the amendments after a thorough debate. We vehemently condemn the attempt to sow divisions in the judiciary".

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