Pakistan’s Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar on Tuesday tabled the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023 aimed to limit the discretionary powers to take suo motu notice by the chief justice of Pakistan, Geo News reported.
The house has sent the proposed bill to the National Assembly (NA) Standing Committee on Law and Justice for further approval which will meet on Wednesday morning under the chair of Chaudhry Mahmood Bashir Virk.
The committee will send it back to the lower house. After the NA passes the bill, it will be sent to the Senate for approval.
The decision of Pakistan’s government comes a day after two Supreme Court judges — Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail raised questions over the powers of the Chief Justice of Pakistan. The two judges said the apex court “cannot be dependent on the solitary decision of one man, the Chief Justice.”
The court 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 suo motu.
In his speech on the floor of the house during the National Assembly session, Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif sought parliamentary action in this regard. He termed the dissenting note “a ray of hope,” as per the Geo News report.
Shehbaz Sharif said, “The voices for change stemming from the judiciary itself is certainly a ray of hope for the country.” Sharif’s party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has accused the judiciary of “bench-fixing,” as per the news report.
While speaking on the floor of the house, Pakistan’s Law minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said that the Supreme Court’s reputation was damaged due to the actions taken in the name of suo moto notices.
“We have even seen that era when suo motu notices were taken on trivial matters […] also, in the past, several review cases were delayed and not fixed for hearing,” Azam Nazeer Tarar said.
Tarar said that the dissenting note of the two judges has led to further concern. He stated that the decisions taken under suo motu notices could not be appealed earlier. He further said, “It is important to give the chance to appeal an order and the parliament has always demanded that the right to appeal should be given.”
The bill includes shifting the powers of taking suo motu notice from the chief justice to a three-member committee comprising three senior judges.
Furthermore, the bill includes a clause regarding the right of challenging the decision which could be filed within 30 days and will be fixed for a hearing in two weeks’ time.
According to the bill, every clause, appeal or matter before the Supreme Court shall be heard and disposed of by a bench formed by the committee comprising the Chief Justice of Pakistan and two senior judges. The bill also stated that the decision of the committee shall be made as per the majority.
In a 27-page note for the apex court’s March 1 verdict in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa suo motu, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail called it important “to revisit the power of ‘one-man show’ enjoyed by the office of the Chief Justice of Pakistan [Umar Ata Bandial].”
Expressing their views against running a “one-man show”, Justice Shah and Justice Mandokhail stressed that it results in a concentration of power in the hands of one individual, making the system more susceptible to the abuse of power, as per the Geo News report.
The judges said that a collegial system with checks and balances helps “prevent the abuse and mistakes in the exercise of power and promote transparency and accountability.” They stressed that collegial system ensures good governance as it rests on collaboration, shared decision-making and balance of power.
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