Pakistan President Arif Alvi on Saturday returned to Parliament for reconsideration a bill aimed at clipping the powers of the chief justice, citing that the proposed legislation is beyond the jurisdiction of the legislative body and can be assailed as a "colourable legislation".
Pakistan is witnessing a rift between the judiciary and the government after a three-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Uma Ata Bandial on Tuesday fixed May 14 as the new date for elections to the Punjab Assembly and quashed the Election Commission's decision to extend the date of the poll from April 10 to October 8.
The apex court's verdict was criticised by the coalition government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, which has refused to accept it. The government also is keen to curb the suo moto (on its own) powers of the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), Bandial.
The Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023 was approved by both houses of Parliament last month and sent to the president for assent.
“The Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023 travels beyond the competence of the parliament and can be assailed as a colourable legislation,” Alvi, a member of former prime minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party before he became president, said in his reply to the government.
The bill was approved by the federal Cabinet on March 28. The National Assembly passed it after a few amendments suggested by the Standing Committee on Law and Justice. On March 30, it was passed by the Senate.
The bill states that every cause, matter, or appeal before the apex court would be heard and disposed of by a bench constituted by a committee comprising the chief justice and the two senior-most judges. It added that the decisions of the committee would be taken by a majority.
On exercising the apex court’s original jurisdiction, called suo moto powers, the bill said that any matter invoking the use of Article 184(3) would first be placed before the committee.
In his detailed reply, which he also posted on Twitter, Alvi said that he thought it fit and proper to return the bill under the Constitution, with “the request for reconsideration in order to meet the scrutiny about its validity (if assailed in the court of law)”.
He said that “these time-tested rules are being followed ever since the year 1980 — any tinkering with the same may tantamount to interference with the internal working of the Court, its autonomy and independence.” Alvi cautioned that any attempt to modify or tamper with these rules could be viewed as interference with the internal workings of the Court, which could compromise its autonomy and independence.
The head of the state further said the top court is an independent institution as “visualised by the founding fathers that in the state of Pakistan independence of the judiciary shall be fully secured”.
“With such an objective in view, Article 191 was incorporated and the Supreme Court was kept out of the law-making authority of the parliament,” he stressed.
He said the competence of the Parliament to make laws stemmed from the Constitution itself.
After Alvi's refusal to assent to the legislation, the government is likely to get through this bill from a joint session of parliament, Geo News reported.
Reacting to the president’s move, Climate Change Minister Senator Sherry Rehman criticised President Alvi for following former prime minister Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party's policy.
In a tweet, she said, “By returning the Supreme Court bill (to the parliament) for review, President Arif Alvi has proved that he is not the country’s president but the PTI’s secretary general even now.” She said Alvi had looked at “Parliament’s every decision with the perspective of the PTI”.
“He is following his party’s policy, not his constitutional role as the president," she said.
“The president is saying that this bill is outside the parliament’s authority? He kept running the President's House like an ordinance factory for three and a half years — how can he be aware of the parliament’s powers? President, do not teach the parliament legislation,” she said.
A senior Pakistani minister on Friday demanded the resignation of Chief Justice Bandial after another judge of the Supreme Court issued a dissenting note on the suo motu notice regarding holding elections in Punjab province, Meanwhile, a complaint was filed against the CJP before the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) for ‘misconduct’, seeking a probe into the constitution of a bench for suo motu proceedings on Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa elections.
PML-N chief organiser Maryam Nawaz Sharif echoed the demand that CJP Bandial should resign because “his tilt towards” her rival party, the PTI, was ‘glaring’.
In a couple of tweets, Maryam alleged that the top judge had flagrantly violated the law and Constitution to favour Khan and the PTI.
“This blatant abuse of authority has led to an unprecedented revolt-like situation in the [Supreme Court]. Judges of impeccable repute have raised serious questions on CJP’s conduct & bias,” she wrote, claiming that no chief justice had ever been accused of such misconduct.
Her father, PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif, also tweeted on the issue, saying that courts were meant to rescue nations from crises, not push them further into the quagmire.
“Who knows what privilege the chief justice has employed to impose a minority opinion on a majority decision? Rather than causing further damage, a chief justice who has insulted his position and the constitution by further PTI’s agenda should immediately resign.”
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