8-member SC bench to take up pleas against bill aimed at curtailing CJP’s powers tomorrow

Tomorrow (Thursday) at 11:30 a.m., an eight-member larger bench of the Supreme Court (SC) will hear three petitions challenging a bill that seeks to limit the powers of Pakistan’s chief justice (CJP).

The bill, known as the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023, aims to deny the CJP’s office the authority to take individual suo motu notice.

In the beginning, both houses of parliament approved it, and it was then sent to the president for his approval. On the other hand, the president had returned it, stating that the proposed law went “beyond the competence of parliament.”

On Monday, the bill was passed by a cooperative sitting of parliament with specific corrections, in the midst of a boisterous dissent from PTI legislators.

The eight-member bench will consist of CJP Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Sayyad Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, Justice Ayesha Malik, Justice Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi, and Justice Shahid Waheed, according to the roster that was released on Wednesday.

Justices Qazi Faez Isa and Aminuddin Khan, who had previously ruled that the CJP did not have the authority to create special benches or select their members, are absent from the bench. As a result, all suo motu matters were postponed. A larger bench consisting of six members later recalled the order. Equity Isa, in a legal note, later said that the seat didn’t “comprise an established court”.

Advocate Muhammad Shafay Mu­nir, Raja Amer Khan, Chaudhry Ghulam Hussain, and others, among others, submitted three petitions in accordance with Article 184(3) of the Constitution, as indicated by the cause list that was released today.

The SC is authorized to assume jurisdiction in matters involving a question of “public importance” with reference to the “enforcement of any of the fundamental rights” of Pakistan’s citizens by virtue of Article 184(3) of the Constitution.

Advocate Mu­nir’s petition insisted that the plea had been filed to protect the Constitution and the judiciary’s independence.

He argued that the petitioner had always strived and struggled to protect the Constitution, the independence of the judiciary, and the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The petitioner also believed in the supremacy of the Constitution, the rule of law, and the independence of the judiciary.

The petition listed the Senate, National Assembly, and federal government via law secretaries as respondents.

Politicians’ responses Following the scheduling of the pleas for hearing, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry tweeted: People who thought that a larger bench would solve problems will hopefully be satisfied now that the chief justice of Pakistan has established a bench with the majority of Supreme Court judges.

“Fixing a law that has not been enforced yet for hearing before a like-minded bench at a lightning speed is an insult to parliament,” said PML-N leader and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Interior Attaullah Tarar.

The bill was passed by the National Assembly after being approved by the federal cabinet on March 28 and receiving a few amendments from the Standing Committee on Law and Justice.

It was approved by the Senate on March 30 and referred to the president for approval.

However, the president opposed it and returned it, claiming that it was “colorable legislation.” The president responded in detail, which he also shared on Twitter, and said that, in accordance with the Constitution, he thought it appropriate to return the bill with “the request for reconsideration in order to meet the scrutiny about its validity (if assailed in the court of law).”

He emphasized that the SC had authority under Article 191 of the Constitution to “make rules regulating the practice and procedure of the Court.”

However, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had characterized the president’s action as “most unfortunate.” He claimed, “He has belittled the august affice by acting as a worker of the PTI, one who is beholden to Imran Niazi more than the Constitution and demands of his office. He has belittled the august affice by acting as a worker of the PTI.”

With a few modifications, the bill was approved by the joint session of the parliament on Monday. The bill will be sent back to the president for his approval in accordance with the Constitution; if he does not sign it within ten days, assent will be considered granted.

A three-member bench consisting of the CJP and the two most senior judges of the apex court will decide whether to take up a matter suo motu, according to the new legislation. In the past, the CJP was the only one who could do this.

The law also says that the apex court will hear and decide on every cause, matter, or appeal it hears. This bench will be made up of the chief justice and the two highest-ranking judges.

The regulation likewise incorporates the option to record an allure in the span of 30 days of the judgment in a suo motu case and that any case including established understanding won’t have a seat of less than five appointed authorities.

The bill would give former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and other parliamentarians who had been disqualified by the Supreme Court under suo motu powers (like Jahangir Tareen) the ability to appeal their disqualification within 30 days of the law’s passage.

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