ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif listens as  Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari shares his thoughts during the National Assembly session on Wednesday.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif listens as Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari shares his thoughts during the National Assembly session on Wednesday.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution on Wednesday seeking the formation of a special parliamentary committee to carry out judicial reforms after heads of the ruling coalition parties, including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, launched a tirade against the judiciary over Tuesday’s decision of a three-judge Supreme Court bench in the Punjab chief minister’s case.

The resolution was read out by Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar on the opening day of the assembly’s new session and was also supported by the small opposition in the house after Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in his hard-hitting speech held the judiciary responsible for the state of democracy in the country and accused it of validating all the military takeovers in the past.

The move seems to be an effort to put the judiciary under pressure as the ruling coalition does not have the two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament, which is required to amend the Constitution.

“This august house believes that the parliament is the supreme legislative body of the state … the enactment of the laws, including amendments to the Constitution, is the sole prerogative of the parliament,” said Mr Tarar while reading out the text of the resolution.

PM laments Imran still ‘blue-eyed’, getting unprecedented support from institutions; Bilawal says 19th Amendment should have never passed

In the beginning, he mistakenly read out “august court” and then explained it to the lawmakers amid huge laughter that he uttered these words as he had been doing so in the court as a lawyer for 40 years.

Through the resolution, the house declared the judicial reforms “a long pending agenda of what is left over from the Charter of Democracy” and vowed not to allow “any other institution to transgress and encroach on its powers”.

“This house resolves that to ensure the supremacy of the parliament and the Constitution in letter and spirit, it hereby constitutes a joint special committee of both houses to institute the requisite judicial reforms, which are the need of the hour,” the law minister said.

Earlier, Prime Minister Sharif accused the judiciary of having “double standards” in its treatment of different political parties.

The criticism of the judiciary came from the prime minister a day after the Supreme Court overruled a ruling by the Punjab Assembly’s deputy speaker and removed the premier’s son Hamza Shehbaz as the chief minister.

“I ask that there was a time when a former chief justice took suo moto [notices] day and night … when the courts summon then I think we should go with great respect … but if you have to decide then it should be on the basis of truth and justice. It can’t happen that you treat me one way and treat someone else differently,” Mr Sharif said, alleging that during the previous PTI government’s tenure, “no one took notice” of various scandals and corruption cases.

“Did anyone take a suo motu notice despite the passage of eight years?” he said while lamenting over the delay in the decision on the foreign funding case by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Mr Sharif, who remained in the house almost during the whole proceedings, said despite the mammoth economic challenges prevailing at present, the government would help Pakistan emerge as a great country without bowing before “fascism”.

He claimed that Imran Khan was still “blue-eyed” and was getting unprecedented support from the institutions “despite failing to deliver”.

Taking the floor, Mr Bhutto-Zardari regretted that the Supreme Court refused to constitute a full court despite the demand of all the parties in parliament.

“We did not name any Mr X or Mr Y as an attempt to pressurise any institution. We did not threaten to divide Pakistan. When one institution was deciding regarding another, our only request was for the full court bench to be present,” he said.

He said just as the judiciary had decided that the prime minister would need the approval of the cabinet, in the same way, “the Supreme Court is not just the chief justice of Pakistan, it is each and every member of the SC.”

The PPP chairman said they had removed Article 58(2b) from the Constitution, which provided unbridled powers to the president to dissolve the assembly but regretted that now this power was with the court.

He also lambasted the former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and accused him of making decisions against the parliament and democracy, lamenting that even “the prices of samosas and potatoes were set in Court Room 1”.

Referring to the Charter of Democracy signed by former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in 2006 in London, he said the promised judicial reforms revolved around the formation of constitutional courts that were to decide regarding the constitution and the appointment of judges, which would not be in the hands of a judge but of the house.

“We made an amendment in which the house along with judicial representatives would collectively appoint judges. The house, the PM and the law minister of the time were then threatened to pass the 19th Amendment or the 18th Amendment would be abolished,” he said. “I accept on the floor of the house that getting intimidated by the threat was our mistake. We should have never passed the 19th Amendment. We should have told the court of that time to go home if it did not accept the Constitution of Pakistan.”

Without naming, he alleged that during the 2018 elections, the role played by certain judges was apparent. Former Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, he alleged, was running a campaign against them as “he would make a speech against us in Larkana, slap a judge and give a lecture in Karachi”.

“It cannot happen that there is a different constitution for us and a different one for the laadla (blue-eyed),” he said, adding that it was the responsibility of the house to defend the role of parliament.

“It is not their [judges’] duty to amend the Constitution. It cannot happen that we sacrifice our lives, struggle for 30 years and then have someone change the Constitution with the stroke of a pen,” he said. “It is better to lock the parliament.”

Asad Mehmood of the JUI-F also lambasted the judiciary over its controversial decision on the issue of the Punjab chief minister, declaring that “enough is enough”.

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2022

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