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The ICJ mission chief said at a press conference on Friday, after a six-day visit to the country, that it appeared the Supreme Court was exceeding the limits of a reasonable use of suo motu procedure. – File Photo by AP

ISLAMABAD: The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has said that the Supreme Court of Pakistan should exercise restraint in taking up suo motu proceedings because overuse of the provision could endanger the rule of law.

The visiting ICJ mission recommended to the apex court to adopt rules setting out the criteria for the use of suo motu procedures and for the allocation of cases to benches.

The ICJ mission chief said at a press conference here on Friday, after a six-day visit to the country, that it appeared the Supreme Court was exceeding the limits of a reasonable use of suo motu procedure.

Stefan Trechsel said the legal profession and members of the bar appeared divided over the use of the suo motu proceedings by the Supreme Court.

“On one hand, some supported the current liberal practice, but on the other, a number of lawyers and former judges felt that the Supreme Court has gone too far and that the practice endangered the rule of law,” he said.

Graham Leung, another judge, accompanied Mr Trechsel. He said that when the apex court took up the cases itself the parties involved might be deprived of their right to appeal.

“Concern has also been raised with regard to the allocation of cases to different benches of the Supreme Court,” he said, adding “it appears that there may be a need for greater transparency in this respect.”

Members of the Geneva-based ICJ arrived in the country under the commission’s South Asia Programme to examine the independence of judiciary since the lawyers’ movement.

The mission visited Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad and held meetings with members of the legal profession, officials and civil society activists.

The team met a number of justices of the Supreme Court, the chief justice of the Lahore High Court, retired judges, politicians and members of the lawyers’ movement and the bar.

The mission praised the Supreme Court for taking up human rights issues and said that there seemed to be a widespread agreement over suo motu proceedings which were justified and valuable in appropriate cases.

Mr Trechsel said the Supreme Court had occasionally gone too far and ought to exercise more judicial restraint.

He said: “No one gave clear indications on how the limit ought to be drawn.”

Mr Trechsel said the mission could not meet Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.

The mission members observed that the judicial activism of the Supreme Court might be understandable to some degree and gave the perception in some quarters that the state had not been always able to discharge its responsibilities.

They, however, said that on the other hand, there were reasons that led to some understanding for the activism of the Supreme Court.

“In fact it appears that the government is not able to fulfil its tasks, but judicial interventions may bring relief in some cases, the Supreme Court is perceived by some observers as undue interference,” they said.

Mr Trechsel said that it was alleged that some judgments had as yet not been implemented by the authorities.

“The anecdotal evidence we have heard suggests that the problem of corruption in the lower levels of the judiciary is particularly acute and may be widespread,” he said, adding that it affected functioning of judiciary and undermined public confidence in the institution.

The mission members observed that the lawyers’ movement for restoration of the rule of law and Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry had been successful and merits admiration.

“This leads to a corrosion of the rule of law and a blurring of the constitutional separation of powers,” Mr Trechsel said.