• Passes another bill giving right of appeal in suo motu cases
• Two damning resolutions targeting top court also passed
• Speaker changes parliamentary schedule following apex court order in elections case; minister accuses court of assuming ‘political role’

ISLAMABAD: In an unprecedented move amid the ongoing tussle between parliament and the judiciary, the government on Friday convened a National Assembly sitting ahead of schedule and secured approval of three bills — including one giving the right of appeal to the aggrieved party in suo motu cases — and two damning resolutions against the judiciary within half an hour, after suspending several rules.

Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, who adjourned Thursday’s sitting of the lower house of parliament until April 26, changed the schedule through a notification at a time when members were attending a briefing by the military leadership on the national security situation.

The move came minutes after a three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, ordered the State Bank of Pakistan to release Rs21 billion by Monday for holding elections to the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies.

The house also witnessed a fiery speech by Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, who accused the judiciary of playing politics.

Taking the floor, Mr Asif said they were doing legislation to strengthen the apex court so that it could find out the way to clear a backlog of over 51,000 cases.

Without elaborating, he said the remarks given by Army Chief Gen Asim Munir during the in-camera briefing about the parliament and the office of the prime minister were appreciable.

“Previously, prime ministers faced allegations that they do legislation to protect their powers. There [in the Supreme Court], they are resisting the legislation to protect and concentrate their powers,” the minister said as Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif looked on.

“We want to disperse their [judges’] powers so that there should be some democracy in that institution,” he said, referring to the top court. “I think this institution [parliament] is playing a less political role than that institution [Supreme Court].”

He added, “We are not trespassing on anyone’s territory, but this parliament will never tolerate trespassing of its territory [by others].”

Legislation

The lawmakers rushed to approve two government bills and one by a private member after the speaker allowed their passage by suspending rules under which a bill was required to be sent to the committee concerned after its introduction and a two-day notice to the members is mandatory before putting it for a final vote.

Interestingly, the government managed the introduction of the crucial bill regarding the right of appeal in the suo motu cases through a supplementary agenda and by a private member, and that too after suspending the rules to allow transactions of the private-member business.

The bill, titled the Supreme Court (Review of Judgements and Orders) Bill, 2023, was tabled by PML-N’s Shaza Fatima Khawaja amid opposition by PTI member Mohsin Leghari, who criticised the government for showing “undue haste” in doing legislation and asked the government to provide at least a day to the members to go through the draft of the bill.

Speaking in favour of the bill, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said it was aimed at facilitating and strengthening the Supreme Court in exercising its powers to review its judgements and orders. He said Article 188 of the Constitution allowed the top court powers to review its orders subject to enactment of the laws framed by the parliament.

The law minister said that previously no legislation had been done on the issue, affecting the right of appeal of the litigants, especially in the suo motu cases, which the CJP could initiate under Article 184(3) of the Constitution. In suo motu cases, he said, the last court used to issue the first order.

The minister said the bill had enlarged the scope of the review by forming a larger bench for hearing, besides increasing the “limitation period” for filing the review from 30 to 60 days to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens under Articles 10-A and 25 of the Constitution.

Besides this, he said, a one-time dispensation had been provided in the bill for filing a review petition of the already decided cases under Article 184(3) within 30 days of the bill’s enforcement.

“There has been no interference from this institution [parliament]. Interference is being done by the other institution,” the law minister said amid desk-thumping by the treasury members while responding to Mr Leghari’s objection that the government was intruding on the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. He said through the use of Article 184(3), the rights of thousands of people were being “usurped”.

Supporting the bill, Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir said it was also to be clarified that “the independence of the judiciary doesn’t mean discretion of a single individual”, adding that through this legislation, they wanted to ensure “transparency and collective wisdom” in the apex court’s procedures and there was a structural exercise of authority in the court.

The house also passed the National Accountability (Amendment) Bill 2023, seeking to remove some legal complications in transferring cases from accountability courts to the relevant forums, and the Code of Civil Procedure Bill 2023, aimed at providing relief to the litigants and removing the excessive burden from courts.

Resolutions

Through the first resolution, the National Assembly condemned Thursday’s decision of an eight-member Supreme Court bench barring the government from enforcing a proposed law aimed at limiting CJP’s suo motu powers.

The resolution, read out by PPP’s Ali Musa Gilani, said the National Assembly rejected “an aggressive attempt to undermine the authority of the parliament to legislate and interfere in its constitutional jurisdiction”.

It said the Constitution had defined the domain of all the institutions and no institution has the authority to intrude in others’ affairs. It said the passage of a budget and oversight of financial issues is the authority of the parliament.

In the second resolution, the lawmakers called for transferring Rs16.98bn collected through the Supreme Court’s dam fund to the national exchequer for utilising in the ongoing activities for relief and rehabilitation of flood-affected people.

The resolution, tabled by PML-N’s minority MNA Kesoo Mal Kheeal Das, the house declared the act of establishing the fund by former CJP Saqib Nisar “illegal and against the court’s traditions”.

The National Assembly will now meet on Monday afternoon.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2023

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