Ruling coalition urges SC to ‘maintain balance’ and dissolve bench hearing CJP powers bill

Published April 13, 2023
Leaders of the ruling coalition with Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar in the centre, address a press conference in Islamabad on Thursday. — DawnNewsTV
Leaders of the ruling coalition with Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar in the centre, address a press conference in Islamabad on Thursday. — DawnNewsTV

Leaders of the ruling coalition on Thursday denounced the formation of a Supreme Court bench that is currently hearing pleas against pending legislation that seeks to curtail the powers of the chief justice of Pakistan, calling the move “premature” and urging for the bench’s dissolution in light of the ongoing legislative process.

Prior to their appearance at a press conference, the ruling coalition released a joint statement earlier today condemning the composition of the bench, describing it as “controversial” and “unacceptable.” They cited previous cases where similar concerns were raised and urged the apex court to reconsider its decision to form the current bench.

They said that “such a move was never seen in the history of Pakistan and the SC”.

An eight-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by the chief justice, is currently hearing three petitions that challenge the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023, which seeks to strip the office of the CJP of the power to take suo motu notice in an individual capacity, after it was passed by parliament and sent to the president for his assent, but was returned for being “beyond the competence of parliament”.

The bill was later passed by a joint sitting of parliament with certain amendments on Monday, amidst a noisy protest from PTI lawmakers.

In a presser today, the ruling coalition leaders — which included members of the PML-N, PPP, MQM-P, ANP and other allied parties — put a united front against the bench in what they alleged was in defiance of legal principles.

Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar insisted that the current situation was “very alarming”, alleging a “selective bench” had been formed in disregard of the rules.

“Two senior judges have not been included in the bench that has been made after a pick and choose,” the minister added, referring to Justices Qazi Faez Isa and Sardar Tariq Masood, the senior-most judges after the chief justice.

The minister expressed concern about the lack of representation from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan among the judges on the bench.

Tarar said that a “conflict of interest” exists as the case involved the chief justice’s own powers, and all propriety rules prohibited Justice Bandial from leading the bench.

“All provincial bar councils have unanimously expressed their disagreement with the current bench and that this matter should not be made a matter of ego,” he added.

The minister emphasised that parliament was not taking on any institution in the current situation.

“Parliament has the authority to legislate for the betterment of the people, and we are aware of our rights and how to safeguard them. This right cannot be taken away from us by preventing parliament from legislating,” Tarar added.

He said that the ruling parties had never spoken about having two supreme courts. Moreover, according to him, there were voices from within the highest court that had clearly stated that recent judgments underscore the fact that the court was not an imperial institution, and that it was not meant to be run as a one-man show.

He maintained that any citizen could challenge the law once it was implemented.

He called for the dissolution of the bench.

PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira expressed his surprise that the matter had been taken up by the court even though the president had not given his final opinion on the bill.

“I don’t understand the logic behind this. Are they trying to prevent parliament from exercising its powers? We will not accept this,” he stated.

He urged the chief justice to dissolve the bench, emphasising that the ruling parties would not tolerate its existence.

ANP’s Iftikhar Hussain cast aspersions on the formation of the Supreme Court bench and the subsequent return of the bill by the president.

He questioned whether it was a sin to remove a government through a constitutional process, adding that the legislature advocated for the language of affection and respect.

Warning against attempts to undermine parliament’s authority, he stated that if someone were to try to curtail its powers or refuse to accept it, the legislative would use its powers.

Aminul Haque, a member of the MQM-P and also the IT Minister, expressed his desire for a full bench to be formed so that the country could benefit from “collective wisdom”.

“We want the parliament to be able to use its powers, but all pillars of balance must be equal under all circumstances,” he added.

Another ruling coalition leader said the Supreme Court should avoid taking on the characteristics of a political party, and instead focus on preserving its reputation.

While the other leaders clarified that their demands were not intended as an intervention in the chief justice’s powers, they emphasised that it was necessary to maintain a balance.

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