ISLAMABAD: In a significant move, the government on Tuesday allowed introduction of a crucial private member’s bill in the National Assembly seeking to empower the lawmakers to punish those committing contempt of parliament or its committees and breaching the privilege of any member of any house of parliament on the pattern of the contempt of court law.

The bill titled “Contempt of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) Bill 2023” was tabled by PTI dissident Rana Qasim Noon and it was supported one by one by almost all the parties present in the National Assembly and the lawmakers termed the move too late, saying that such a law should have been enforced much earlier.

Though, some of the lawmakers, including opposition leader Raja Riaz, called for immediate passage of the bill, Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf on the request of Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar referred it to the committee concerned with the directive to come up with its report within seven days.

The law minister was of the view that they must adopt a proper procedure to unanimously pass this important bill and there should be no impression that they had passed the legislation in haste. Moreover, he said, the committee would be able to further “fine-tune” the bill as some of the members had raised objections over its language. The minister was of the view that this bill would ensure establishment of the writ of parliament.

Lawmakers to get powers to punish those belittling parliament, bodies

Mohsin Leghari of the PTI did not oppose the bill, but said that they should not give a “blind approval” to the proposed law and the members should be provided an opportunity to go through the text of the draft law.

Under the proposed law, “the power to award punishment” rests with the National Assembly or the Senate on the recommendations of the 24-member “Contempt Committee” to be formed by the National Assembly speaker and the decision of the House, according to the proposed law, “shall be the decision of the majority of the members present and voting”.

According to Section 9 of the proposed act, “whoever is found guilty of contempt of a House or a committee …… shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or with fine which may extend to Rs10 million or with both.”

Section 10 of the said bill says that “any decision of a House shall be executed and enforced by judicial magistrate under whose territorial jurisdiction the accused is temporarily residing under relevant provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (V of 1898)”.

The proposed law also provides the right of appeal to the convicted person which would then be heard by the lawmakers in a joint sitting of the parliament. The appeal before the joint sitting must be filed within 30 days of the announcement of the verdict. The joint sitting will have the powers to decide the appeal or may refer such appeal to another committee of the joint sitting which shall give its final report also within thirty days. The proposed law has empowered parliament to prescribe rules and procedures for hearing of the appeal and the formation of the joint committee.

“The Speaker shall within thirty days of the commencement of this Act, constitute a Contempt Committee for the purposes mentioned in this Act. The Contempt Committee shall consist of 24 members having equal representation from each House [Senate and NA],” says the bill.

According to the draft law, the committee shall have 14 members from the treasury benches, to be nominated by the Leader of the House, “including seven members from each House and 10 from the opposition benches, five from each House”. The members of the opposition will be nominated by the Leader of the Opposition of each House.

According to the bill, a person is said to have committed contempt of parliament, if he is found to have “willfully breached the privilege of a member, a House or a committee; violated any law guarantying the immunities or privileges of the members; failed or refused to obey any order or direction of a House or a committee; refused to give evidence or recorded false statement before a committee; attempted or influenced a witness either by intimidation, threat or use of force to prevent him from providing evidence, producing documents or appearing before the committee; and failed to provide any documents or submitted tempered documents before a House or a committee”.

Any house of parliament trough a motion can charge any person for contempt of a House and the speaker or the Senate chairman may refer the matter to the “Contempt Committee”.

Section 6 of the proposed law says that “right of fair trial as enshrined in the Constitution shall be provided to each but no one shall be allowed to appear before the committee through legal practitioner or an advocate”.

“The Contempt Committee shall have powers as vested in civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 01 of 1908, for enforcing the attendance of any person and compelling the production of documents” and will have the powers to issue summons and arrest warrants with the final approval of the NA speaker or the Senate chairman, says the draft of the proposed law.

It says that any document, produced or evidence recorded by the committee shall not be admissible as evidence in any court and “any person giving evidence or producing documents before the Committee shall not be liable to any civil, criminal or departmental proceedings”.

The Statement of Objects and Reasons attached to the bill says the parliamentary committees act as extension of their respective houses and such committees not only give threadbare consideration to proposed legislation but also perform oversighting functions, including conduct of public hearings.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2023

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