Larger SC bench formed to deliberate on suo motu issues

Published August 22, 2021
The five-judge Supreme Court bench will be headed by Acting Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial and will also consist of Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmad and Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar. — SC website/File
The five-judge Supreme Court bench will be headed by Acting Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial and will also consist of Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmad and Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar. — SC website/File

ISLAMABAD: A day after taking notice of the frequent incidents of harassment of journalists, the Supreme Court constituted on Saturday a five-member bench in an attempt to provide clarity on the issue of invoking the jurisdiction of suo motu notice by a bench.

The five-judge bench that will take up the matter on Monday will be headed by Acting Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial and will also consist of Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmad and Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar.

On Friday a two-judge bench consisting of Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel had taken up a notice on an application moved by the Press Association of the Supreme Court, which had highlighted frequent incidents of harassment of journalists, and had summoned top officials of three government investigation agencies — the director general of the Federal Investigation Agency, the Inspector General Police of Islamabad, and the interior secretary for Aug 26.

The court had also issued notices to the secretaries of the information & broadcasting, interior, religious affairs and human rights ministries and different media organisations and associations — namely, the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, All Pakistan Newspapers Society, Pakistan Broadcasters Association, and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists — besides the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority to state whether the allegations made in the application were correct or otherwise.

Move follows issuance of notices by bench consisting of Justices Isa and Mandokhel

However, on Saturday the apex court proceeded to constitute a larger five-judge bench while noting that the earlier two-judge bench had issued notices to the federal as well as provincial governments, other authorities and the law officers of the federation and provinces and issued directives to fix the matter for Aug 26 before the same bench.

The Supreme Court had constituted the larger bench to provide clarity with regard to the invocation of suo motu jurisdiction, it said.

According to some analysts, the frequent exercise of taking of suo motu notices has always been under observation of premier bars like the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) that have been calling for framing of rules by the Supreme Court for regulating the exercise of powers under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.

The PBC had also highlighted that in case the matter was fixed on the judicial side, then the Supreme Court should consider constituting a full court consisting of all the 17 judges of the court to deliberate on the matter.

Former Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar had expressed his intention of determining the jurisdiction exercised under Article 184(3), to regulate the powers of the court. The court had then taken up a case relating to the scope of Article 184(3) that empowers the top court to initiate suo motu proceedings on matters it considers against the law.

Likewise, former Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa had observed that suo motu jurisdiction should be exercised sparingly. He had even suggested during a meeting of the full court of the Supreme Court that cases on suo motu notice be taken up by a five-judge larger bench consisting of senior judges of the court and any appeal against the decision on the suo motu notice be heard by a larger bench in which the original judges who decided the matter during the first round should not sit.

The frequent use of suo motu powers during the period when Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was the Chief Justice of Pakistan had raised many eyebrows in the legal fraternity, who repeatedly highlighted the need to determine the limits or constraints of the exercise of suo motu jurisdiction, so that the judiciary’s credibility was not eroded, said the analysts.

The lawyers were then of the view that excessive use of Article 184(3) of the Constitution under public interest litigation sometimes sealed the fate of the aggrieved party, especially if an altogether different issue cropped up during collateral proceedings and totally a different aspect was brought to the notice of the court.

Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2021

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