PM Shehbaz criticises SC order on suo motu bill, says no precedent of such action exists in entire world

Published April 20, 2023
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif addressing the launch ceremony of the Constitution’s mobile app in Islamabad on April 20. — DawnNewsTV
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif addressing the launch ceremony of the Constitution’s mobile app in Islamabad on April 20. — DawnNewsTV

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday criticised the Supreme Court’s order to render a bill curtailing the powers of the chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) as ineffective even once it becomes law, saying that such an example did not exist in the entire world.

Addressing the launch ceremony of the Constitution’s mobile app in Islamabad, the premier said, “There is no example in the world where the parliament’s law — which had not even come into existence right now and not taken its applicable shape — was issued a stay order upon.”

On March 30, the Senate passed the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023, which aims to deprive the office of the CJP of powers to take suo motu notice in an individual capacity.

However, on April 8, President Arif Alvi returned the bill and two separate petitions challenging it in the apex court and the Islamabad High Court were moved shortly after.

Today, Shehbaz said, “The Constitution has taken birth from the cradle of the parliament. The judiciary can interpret the Constitution — that is their right — but the judiciary cannot rewrite the Constitution.

“This (rewriting Constitution) is only the parliament’s authority,” he added. The premier went on to say that the “parliament will use its constitutional and legal rights on this” matter.

“It is expected from the judiciary, the Supreme Court bench and bar that they will become the Constitution’s protector,” he said.

Shehbaz said the country was “standing at crossroads today” and that politicians, including him, had committed numerous mistakes.

“The ones to stand above others are those who move forward after learning from their mistakes and subordinate themselves to the national interest for the nation’s high and supreme aim,” he said.

The prime minister said the government was “working day and night to improve Pakistan’s difficult conditions and will keep doing so”.

In a subtle reference to the government’s tough policy decisions and heightened inflation, he said: “Without delving into any political conversation, I want to say that we are undivided on this that indisputably, we won’t hesitate for a moment to sacrifice our political assets to save the state.”

Passage of the bill

The bill was approved by the federal cabinet on March 28 and the National Assembly passed it a day later after a few amendments suggested by the Standing Committee on Law and Justice.

On March 30, it was passed by the Senate and then referred to the president for his approval.

The president, however, returned it, with the objection that it was a “colourable legislation”. In his detailed reply, which he also posted on Twitter, the president said that he thought it fit and proper to return the bill, in accordance with the Constitution, with “the request for reconsideration in order to meet the scrutiny about its validity (if assailed in the court of law)”.

He underlined that Article 191 of the Constitution empowered the SC “to make rules regulating the practice and procedure of the Court”.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, however, had termed the president’s move to be “most unfortunate”. “Through his conduct, he has belittled the august office by acting as a worker of the PTI, one who is beholden to Imran Niazi more than the Constitution and demands of his office,” he said.

On Monday, the bill was passed by the parliament’s joint session with a few amendments. As per the Constitution, the bill will be sent to the president once again for his assent, and if he does not sign it within ten days, assent will be deemed to have been granted.

According to the fresh legislation, a three-member bench consisting of the CJP and the two senior-most judges of the apex court will decide whether or not to take up a matter suo motu. Previously, this was solely the prerogative of the CJP.

The law also states that every cause, matter, or appeal before the apex court would be heard and disposed of by a bench, constituted by a committee made up of the chief justice and the two senior-most judges.

The legislation also includes the right to file an appeal within 30 days of the judgement in a suo motu case and that any case involving constitutional interpretation will not have a bench of fewer than five judges.

The bill would allow former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and other parliamentarians disqualified by the Supreme Court under suo motu powers (such as Jahangir Tareen) to appeal their disqualification within 30 days of the law’s enactment.

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