• Irfan Siddiqui says chief justice has no right to declare PMs dishonest
• PTI members support CJP’s point of view, say majority turned into minority through ‘horse-trading’
• Sanjrani refers matter of confrontation between parliament, judiciary to House committee

ISLAMABAD: The judiciary came under fire in the upper house of parliament on Friday over remarks given by judges the previous day, which were seen by lawmakers as ‘political’ and ‘against parliament and the legislative processes’.

Senators belonging to various political parties voiced their objections to observations made by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, who said during a hearing on Thursday that parliament was being kept “systematically incomplete”.

The CJP also said that elections were the “real answer” to all issues and observed that the country’s most honest prime minister was sent packing by invoking a now-defunct article of the Constitution. Most inferred that the CJP was referring to former premier Mohammad Khan Junejo, who served in the late 1980s.

In the Senate on Friday, the harshest criticism of the CJP’s remarks came from Senator Irfanul Haque Siddiqui of the PML-N, who said the country’s top judge had no right to declare prime ministers - from Liaquat Ali Khan to Imran Khan - dishonest.

Irfan Siddiqui says chief justice has no right to declare PMs dishonest

The issue of observations made by lawmakers and judges about each other was raised by Senator Shahadat Awan, the state minister for law and justice, during Question Hour after a member questioned the Supreme Court’s monitoring of the Gun and Country Club’s special audit.

“This is not the job of the Supreme Court,” Senator Mushtaq Ahmad of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) said after the House was told that the apex court had taken notice of the allotment of Pakistan Sports Board’s land to the club and appointed a caretaker committee to audit the alleged irregularities under the court’s supervision.

However, the law minister noted that instead of parliamentarians and the judges passing remarks about each other, lines should be drawn. After he proposed that the matter be referred to a committee, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani instantly referred the matter to the standing committee on law and justice.

‘Parliament must not be ridiculed’

In his fiery speech, Senator Siddiqui took strong exception to Justice Bandial’s Thursday remarks that the country just had one honest prime minister. The senator said that though the CJP did not name anyone, he was perhaps referring to former premier Junejo.

“Who gave him [CJP] the privilege to declare prime ministers from Liaquat Ali Khan to Imran Khan as dishonest?” he asked. The courts should not lash the parliament on its back, he said and wondered whether it would be acceptable if someone said the country had just one honest chief justice.

Describing the CJP’s remarks as an attack on the prestige and sovereignty of the House, the senator said neither the judiciary nor the armed forces were representatives of the people. “The parliament comprises the chosen representatives of the public and it must not be ridiculed,” he remarked.

He said the chief justice made some remarks in a case that had no direct link with the elections and other related matters. The CJP said the parliament was incomplete and was not being completed intentionally and the legislation being made by the parliament was controversial, the senator said.

Describing CJP’s remarks as “disturbing”, Senator Siddiqui said the parliamentarians held the judiciary in high esteem.

Referred to the “judicial murder” of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the endorsement of four martial laws, permission to a uniformed general to contest elections and the removal of a prime minister for not getting salary from his son, Senator Siddiqui said: “We have bowed our heads before every decision of the judiciary and will do so in future.”

Saying that the chair has already referred the matter to the law and justice committee through a ruling, he said the institutions were bent on encroaching on others’ space and every encroachment was directed towards parliament.

“The judiciary and the apex court had its jurisdiction,” he said, adding that the judicial activism started with the restoration of former CJP Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.

“The laws and constitutional amendments passed by the parliament are being challenged in the courts,” he said and referred to amendments made by the parliament in NAB laws.

Referring to CJP’s remarks about the parliament, he asked whether the courts ever questioned martial law administrators and passed such remarks during martial regimes.

He said that the courts should avoid giving political statements by overstepping their jurisdiction. If you find a law to be flawed and repugnant to the Constitution, you can annul it and nobody can stop you“, he remarked.

Senator Siddiqui, however, surprised many when he agreed with the PTI’s demand for conducting general elections for Punjab and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies within 90 days after the dissolution of the assemblies.

PTI supports CJP’s remarks

In response to Senator Irfan Siddiqui’s speech, Leader of Opposition in the House Dr Shahzad Waseem said the CJP’s remarks should be taken as criticism and not an insult. “Respect is commanded and not demanded,” he stressed.

Supporting Justice Bandial’s remarks that the parliament was incomplete, Senator Waseem of the PTI said the majority had been converted into a minority by “the worst kind of horse-trading” and the country’s largest party had been ousted “while abusing the Constitution”.

Referring to the delay in elections of provincial assemblies, he said if the polls were not held within 90 days, then this book of the Constitution should be closed. “I have my fears that this will open the path of civil unrest, which we can’t afford in the given circumstances,” he argued.

Earlier, another PTI senator, Syed Shibli Faraz, said that there was anxiety and tension among the public as well as legislators, as the way shown by the Constitution was not being followed.

Attempts were underway to defer the polls against the dictates of the Constitution, he said and called for holding timely and free and fair elections “to preserve democracy and establish the rule of law”.

Criticising Punjab and KP officials for making a case for postponing the elections, he pointed out that all executive authorities under Article 220 of the Constitution were bound to assist the electoral body in discharging its duty of holding elections.

“The Election Commission has to fulfil its constitutional duty of holding timely elections to the provincial assemblies within the stipulated time period. Unfortunately, there is a civilian martial law in place in the country at present. However, we will not let this House or the Constitution be abused,” he said.

Earlier in his remarks, Senator Mushtaq Ahmad also lamented the addition of five cabinet members, claiming that Pakistan’s cabinet was now the largest in the world.

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2023

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