LAHORE: After the police reservations, the Lahore High Court (LHC) has also raised the issue of legality/credibility of the Punjab government’s initiative of awarding powers of magistrate of first class to the executive field officers and barred the district and sessions judges of the province from holding/attending meeting with them ‘till further order’.

The LHC took notice of the Punjab government’s notification of June 17 that conferred the magisterial powers on the officers after certain amendments to the law by the provincial assembly.

This initiative had already created a ‘controversy’ when the police community raised objections to the move while demanding ‘constitutional clarification of the notification’ for making an attempt to encroach upon the judicial authority.

Under the government notification, the powers were granted to all deputy commissioners, additional deputy commissioners (general), additional deputy commissioners (revenue), additional deputy commissioners (F&P), additional deputy commissioners (headquarters) and assistant commissioners of Punjab.

The Punjab government had made it clear that the powers of special magistrate (first class) were conferred under Section 14-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898 on the officers, by designation, for carrying out raids, trials of offences and other ancillary matters relating to price control/hoarding prevention, forests, mines and minerals, food adulteration, food safety, encroachments on public lands and lands owned by the governments, canal and drainage, dangerous driving and violation of route permits, safety and design of buildings, land use and municipal services under any provincial/federal law.

However, the LHC showed its displeasure through a letter it addressed to all the district & sessions judges on Thursday.

It was written by the director general (directorate of district judiciary) Lahore High Court Lahore, titled “legality of notification dated June 17 2020, issued by provincial government conferring powers of magistrate first class on executive officers”.

The LHC letter reads: “I am directed to refer to the government

of Punjab notification on the subject and to convey that the authority has taken serious notice regarding above referred notification issued by the provincial government conferring powers of magistrate first class on executive officers without taking recommendations of Hon’ble Lahore High Court under section 14 & 37 of Cr.P.C which is ultra vires”.

Issuing directions for all the district & sessions judges of Punjab, the LHC says, “The authority, therefore, has directed you to stop the practice of holding/attending meetings with executive officers on the aforementioned notification”.

It has strictly directed them to ensure the compliance, in letter and spirit, of the official letter.

However, a senior officer of the Pakistan Administrative Services, who is holding an important position, has defended the Punjab government’s decision, saying, “The government notification is under Section 14-A of the CrPC, which is the power of the provincial government”.

He says the concurrence of the LHC is needed only if the notification is done under sections 14 & 37 of the Cr.P.C as pointed out in the Thursday’s letter of the LHC.

“The Section 14-A of the CrPC enables the provincial government to appoint special magistrates with powers of first class magistrates,” the official says.

He further argues that the new powers have been assigned to the field officers after amendments to the laws by the Punjab Assembly.

A senior police officer, commenting on the move, says conferring magisterial powers on the executive officers is against the constitution .

He says the Balochistan High Court, under Justice Faez Isa, had already given a very detailed judgment on it.

“Actually, the constitution does not allow judicial powers to be exercised by anyone but the judicial officers,” he points out, adding that the superior judiciary can review any notification or law made by the elected houses.

Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2020