Govt seeks dissolution of SC bench hearing bill curtailing CJP’s powers

ISLAMABAD, Apr 13 :The government on Thursday sought the dissolution of the eight-member bench formed to hear petitions over the curtailment of the powers of the chief justice.

It may be noted that Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial has formed an eight-judge larger bench to hear petitions filed against the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill,  2023, which curtailed the top judge’s powers to initiate suo motu proceedings and constitute benches on his own.

However, the legal fraternity has strongly criticised the move as the top court remains shrouded in controversy.

Reacting to the same development, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar lamented the “unprecedented” decision by the SC to take up the “premature petition” challenging the SC (Practices and Procedures) Bill 2023 that has not been ascented by the president as of yet.

Leaders of the ruling coalition parties while addressing a press conference in Islamabad expressed their views on the present political scenario in the country.

Speaking to the media, the law minister said that “the past precedents dictate that no matter is fixed before a bench prior to having become a law,” and criticised CJ Bandial for the constitution of a larger bench rather than a full court.

Referring to the cases of Article 63(A) Constitution and the recent cases concerning the delay of elections in Punjab among other such cases that he deemed to be of “national significance”, he bemoaned the top court’s decision to shy away from granted requests for a full court hearing.

Further, Tarar added that the “judicial propriety and all established rules suggest that the CJ should not head the proceedings as the bill concerns the powers of a chief justice and would be considered as a conflict of interest”.

He also stressed that all bar councils of the country have condemned the move.

“The parliament has the power to make laws for the betterment of the nation, to strengthen the institutions and ensure their unbiased nature keeping in view their functionality,” he said expressing fear that the CJ’s decisions were “leading matters towards an outright clash”.

“This confrontational situation is not being initiated by the parliament,” he clarified while saying, “We say this unanimously that we will not allow for the rights of the people to be undermined. We know what our rights are and we know how to defend them too.”

“Nobody has the right to stop the parliament from the lawmaking process,” he said stressing that all coalition partners agreed that “neither the timing is correct – meaning that the law has not even been passed and a bench has been constituted to hear it – and nor is the intervention by other institutions in our power to make laws is acceptable, we stand by the trichotomy of powers,” he said.

“But perhaps most importantly,” he said the government had serious reservations about the “bench composition”.

Tarar lamented that the bench did not include judges from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan saying, “We want one SC, not two”.

“It pains us to see the perception of divisions in the institution strengthening every day,” he added noting that previous judgments had also reflected the tensions where judges had stated that the SC is not an “imperial court” and it would not tolerate a “one-man show”.

PPP lawmaker Qamar Zaman Kaira, Kamran Murtaza of the JUIP, ANP leader Mian Iftikhar Hussain, MQM’s Syed Aminul Haque, Senator Tahir Bizenjo of BNP among others expressed solidarity with the law minister and seconded his remarks urging the CJ to reconsider the bench constitution.

The presser comes as the top institutions butt heads with political, economic and constitutional crises raising the spectre of instability, the most recent of which is the standoff between the government and the SC.

On the one hand, the apex court has summoned the attorney general for Pakistan (AGP), the finance secretary, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) governor and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) secretary over the government’s failure to release Rs21 billion to the polls supervisory authority to hold elections in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P).

The summon orders have come despite resolutions  rejecting the SC verdict ordering early polls in Punjab and K-P to comply with the constitutional provision of 90 days.

Notably, the Senate and Sindh and Balochistan assemblies have called for general elections across the country on the same day and house resolutions calling for it was rushed through the joint session of parliament.

Meanwhile, the ECP has proposed amending sections 57 and 58 of the Elections Act, 2017 to empower it to change the date and schedule of the polls.

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