ISLAMABAD: The Nat­io­nal Assembly on Tues­day passed a critical bill 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, as the legislators continued to assault judges of superior courts in the wake of ongoing executive-judiciary tussle over the issue of elections in Punjab.

The private member’s bill, titled “Contempt of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parlia­ment) Bill 2023”, had been tabled by PTI dissident Rana Qasim Noon last week and Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf immediately referred it to the house committee on rules and procedure with a directive to present its report within seven days after it was supported one by one by the members belonging to almost all the parties.

The members, however, passed the bill with some amendments to the original draft as suggested by the committee, also headed by Mr Noon. In the amended law, the composition of the contempt committee to be formed by the speaker has been changed and the fine amount reduced from Rs10 million to Rs1m.

The bill now requires its passage by the Senate and a ceremonial presidential assent before becoming an act of parliament.

Salient features

Under the proposed law, “the power to award punishment” rests with a contempt committee which will take decision with a majority vote. In the original draft, it had been suggested that the contempt committee would comprise 24 members having equal representation from each house [Senate and NA]. However, the size of the committee has now been reduced to just five members.

“The speaker shall within thirty days of coming into force of this Act, constitute a Contempt Committee for the purposes mentioned in this Act,” reads Clause 5 of the bill. The Contempt Committee shall consist of a member of the NA to be nominated by the speaker, and two members each from the NA and the Senate to be nominated by the leaders of the house and opposition in both houses.

According to Section 9 of the proposed act, “whoever commits contempt under this act, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or with fine which may extend to Rs1 million or with both”.

Section 10 of the bill states that “any decision of a House shall be executed and enforced by district magistrate within whose territorial jurisdiction the accused is temporarily residing under relevant provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898”.

Similarly, in the original draft it had been suggested that a convict under the law would have the right to file an appeal which would be heard by the members during the joint sitting of parliament. However, now the appeal would be heard and decided by the NA speaker and the Senate chairman.

According to the bill, “a person is guilty of contempt under this act, 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.

“The Contempt Committee shall have powers as vested in civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, for enforcing the attendance of any person and compelling the production of documents.”

The committee’s chairman will have the powers to issue summons and arrest warrants with the prior approval of the NA speaker or the Senate chairman.

Historic moment

After the passage of the bill, the lawmakers termed it a historic moment which, according to them, would ensure the supremacy of parliament, besides ensuring proper functioning of the standing committees.

Speaking on points of order, the lawmakers criticised the judiciary for allegedly favouring the PTI and also called for changing the procedure of judges’ appointment.

Minister Javed Latif termed PTI Chairman Imran Khan a “stooge of foreign powers and a terrorist” and declared in categorical terms that talks should not be held with him.

He also called for exposing all those characters who played a role in the ouster of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and “imposing” Imran Khan on the nation and named former army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, former ISI head Faiz Hameed, former chief justice Saqib Nisar and ex-judge Asif Saeed Khosa as the main characters.

The speaker then adjourned the session till May 23 when the Supreme Court will be taking up the Punjab polls case again.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2023

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