ISLAMABAD: Speakers at two seminars on the trichotomy of powers advocated comprehensive reforms to emp­o­wer parliament and the judiciary so that there was “transparency in their affairs” and to make them more ‘inclusive’.

The seminars were part of a two-day conference which deliberated on ways to improve governance organised by the Ministry of Planning.

At a talk titled ‘Empower the Par­liament’, the speakers discussed challe­n­­­ges confronting the legislature and sha­red a roadmap to improve the institution.

Zafarullah Khan, an expert on development, praised the legislature for making progressive laws, but added there was a need to introduce “post-legislative scrutiny” for effective implementation of acts of parliament.

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, chairman of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat), outlined a roadmap for empowerment of parliament.

The suggestions included reclaiming its space from other institutions through “courage and strategy”, transparency, upgrading an outdated voting system, and capacity building of parliamentary staff.

Mr Mehboob said the National Sec­u­rity Com­mittee could be used as a forum for recalibration of relationship between the parliament and the military. “Domains that have been taken over by the military… which are directly related to parl­i­­­ament’s supremacy… how these powers can be re­turned,” he said, calling for a str­­­ategic dialogue to restore the legislature’s supremacy.

Parliament cannot become central until it devolves powers to local governments because this would allow legislators to focus on legislation and supervision, Mr Mehboob added.

Nida Usman, a lawyer, called for judicial reforms to make the judiciary ‘inclusive’ and ensure representation of “marginalised groups”.

Addressing a session on ‘Revamping the judicial system’, Ms Usman said fair representation was unavoidable to make “affirmative action” in favour of the disadvantaged a success.

She described restrictions on the induction of judges to the superior judiciary as ‘gatekeeping’ and cited the seniority principle for elevation of judges to the apex court as an example.

“These technicalities need to be dismantled instead of relying on isolated and interim measures. We need a paradigm shift,” she said.

Rahim Awan, a former secretary to the Law and Justice Commission, dwelt on the advantages and disadvantages of judicial intervention.

“To some extent, judicial intervention is good because if there is no judicial intervention, you cannot ensure justice…but cross the limit…and [we] enter the territory of judicial interference,” said Mr Awan.

There was a need to define “public interest” in clear terms to stop the misuse of suo motu powers, he said.

Rahim Awan suggested the president could send a reference to the top court to clearly define the limits of Article 239 [clause 5 and 6] in order to end the controversy on suo motu powers once and for all. Mr Awan recalled that high courts used to take suo motu notices in the past, even though they did not have the power to do so.

Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2023

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