• Draft suggests amendment to apex court rules, envisages three-member panel for suo motu proceedings
• Grants right to file intra-court appeal, which will have to be taken up within a fortnight
• Proposed law sent to NA panel for deliberation

ISLAMABAD: After the federal cabinet appro­ved a ‘controversial’ bill to deprive the office of Chief Justice of Pakistan of powers to take suo motu notice in an individual capacity, the proposed legislation was referred to the Stan­ding Committee on Law and Justice by National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf for further deliberations.

The amendments which have been proposed in the Supreme Court’s rules, have sparked a fresh debate in legal and political circles and it is expec­ted that the bill may be struck down by the apex court.

Soon after the approval of the bill, called the “Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act, 2023”, by the federal cabinet in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, it was tabled in the National Assembly.

The bill was introduced in the assembly through a supplementary agenda, as it was not included in the original orders of the day.

It is expected that the standing committee will pass the bill in its meeting scheduled for today (Wednesday).

Panel for suo motu

The bill proposes a committee of three judges headed by the chief justice which will be empowered to take suo motu notice as opposed to the earlier practice, which allowed the CJP to initiate proceedings under Article 184(3) in an individual capacity.

Section 3 of the bill said, “Exercise of original jurisdiction by the Supreme Court — any matter invoking exercise of original jurisdiction under clause (3) of Article 184 of the Constitution shall be first placed before the committee constituted under Sec­tion 2 for examination and if the committee is of the view that a question of public importance with reference to enforcement of any of the fundamental rights conferred by chapter I of part II of the Constitution is involved, it shall constitute a bench comprising not less than three judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan which may also include the members of the Committee, for adjudication of the matter.”

‘Long standing demand’

Meanwhile, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, speaking on the floor of the National Assembly, said it was a long-standing demand of the bar associations and civil society that there must be a mechanism for taking suo motu notice.

“In the past it has been observed that suo motu notice had been taken on petty matters like lack of parking space outside a hospital, submerging of a street in rainwater, or recovery of a bottle from an accused. Therefore, it is the need of the hour to form a mechanism to ensure transparency,” he added.

Right of appeal

According to the proposed law, every cause, appeal, or matter before the Supreme Court shall be heard and disposed of by a bench constituted by the committee comprising the CJP and two senior-most judges in order of seniority. It added that the decisions of the committee shall be by majority.

In the bill, the right of appeal is being given to the accused party for the first time, which will be allowed to file an intra-court appeal within 30 days from the date of suo motu notice.

“An appeal shall lie within thirty days from a final order of a bench of the Supreme Court who exercised jurisdiction under clause (3) of Article 184 of the Constitution to a larger bench of the Supreme Court and such appeal shall, for hearing, be fixed within a period not exceeding fourteen days,” the bill said.

“Presently, there is no right of appeal in suo motu cases but in the proposed bill we have given the right to the accused to file intra-court appeal within 30 days,” he added.

For filing a review application under Article 188 of the Constitution, a party shall have the right to appoint counsel of its choice, as per the proposed legislation.

In his speech, the law minister said at present only the lawyer, who pursued the case on behalf of any party, could file an appeal on behalf of their clients, but in the proposed bill, parties could appoint any lawyer to follow their cases.

“An application pleading urgency or seeking interim relief, filed in a cause, appeal or matter, shall be fixed for hearing within fourteen days from the date of its filing,” the bill said with regard to urgent matters.

Mr Tarar said it had often been observed that after filling of appeals it took even months when the apex court took up appeals. “In order to provide prompt justice to the parties, the proposed bill suggested that the appeals will be taken up within 14 days after their filing,” he added.

“The provisions of this act shall have effect notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, rules or regulations for the time being in force or judgment of any court, including the Supreme Court and a High Court,” the bill said.

Not a ‘simple legislation’

Soon after the bill was tabled in the NA, a debate started on its repercussions and fate. Former Senate chairman Wasim Sajjad hoped that the Supreme Court would “take up this matter and set aside the bill even if passed by parliament”.

However, while speaking to Geo News, he agreed that the frequent use of Article 184 (3) has been criticised for a long time by the lawyers’ bodies and civil society. He said the rules of many institutions bestowed the right of appeal to the accused parties.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2023

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