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Remarks made by SC judges upset Senate

July 28, 2012

ISLAMABAD, July 27: Despite a general perception that relations between the judiciary and the executive are on the mend, members of the treasury benches in the Senate voiced concern on Friday over remarks made by some judges of the Supreme Court, including the chief justice, about opposition’s role in parliament during the adoption of the contempt of court law.

One PPP senator even accused the judiciary of inciting the opposition to violence.

Surprisingly, PML-N senators did not make any comment on the issue, although Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had on Thursday described the judges’ remarks as disappointing, unfair, unjust and beyond comprehension.

While hearing a set of identical petitions challenging the Contempt of Court Act, 2012 on Wednesday, the apex court observed that the opposition should have resisted the passage of the law in parliament instead of walking out of the house.

The remarks appear to have equally angered the opposition and the government — the opposition because of the judiciary’s criticism of walkout from parliament instead of putting up an active resistance to the new contempt law, and the government because of the advice given to the opposition by a forum which is not supposed to do it.

PPP’s Aijaz Dhamra who raised the issue in the house alleged that judges were instigating the opposition against the government. Such statements of judges, he said, were tantamount to instigation for bloodshed.

Farhatullah Babar of the PPP did not make any comment but stressed the need for judiciary to exercise restraint in dealing with parliament.

He said such comments undermined the prestige of parliament, did not augur well and would be viewed with concern.

Mr Babar said parliament had demonstrated great respect for the judiciary by refraining from commenting on judicial proceedings and it expected the judges to also show restraint while commenting on its functioning.

Mr Babar said the record showed that parliament had been showing great maturity and restraint in its conduct on relations with the judiciary. This was demonstrated by promptly accepting the judiciary’s views on appointment of judges at the time of passage of the 18th Amendment and also in handing over the record of parliamentary proceedings when sought by the court, he added.

“The parliament endured when the ruling of the NA speaker was overturned. It endured when the SC registrar refused to appear before a parliamentary committee. These instances do not convey strong signals of judicial restraint,” he said.

The PPP senator said the exercise of powers by the legislature and the executive was subject to judicial review but the only check on the judiciary’s own exercise of power was the self-imposed discipline of judicial restraint.

It would be unfortunate if a perception developed that the judicial restraint was fast eroding, he said, adding that power had strange dynamics that must be clearly understood.

By its very nature all power whether in the hands of an individual or in the hands of an institution, Mr Babar said, had a natural tendency to encroach upon the domain of others. “An individual holding some power tends to encroach upon other individuals and likewise institutions also tend to encroach upon the powers of other institutions. This is a human frailty and there is no shame in admitting that judicial power is also not immune from this human weakness,” he said.

The judiciary must, therefore, be seen to be on perpetual guard and not going beyond its proper bounds, he said, adding that awesome powers in the hands of judiciary also placed on it awesome responsibilities and judiciary was the only institution to make this determination.

Earlier, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior Affairs Rehman Malik took oath as a member of the Senate amidst thumping of desks by members of the treasury benches and criticism by the opposition that the session convened particularly for the oath-taking would cost the national exchequer Rs140 million. The PML-N also walked out of the house as a mark of protest.

The opposition questioned the constitutional status of Jehangir Badr as Leader of the House in Senate, after swearing in of a new prime minister and a new cabinet. It said the leader of the house represented the prime minister in the Senate in his absence and a notification from the new prime minister was necessary.

Law Minister Farooq H. Naek assured the opposition that if there was any deficiency it would be removed.

The house will meet again on Monday. Since it will be private members day the house will start a debate on Balochistan on Tuesday which will continue for three days and then complete its discussion on president’s address to a joint sitting of parliament.

It was agreed that there would be no question hour during the week-long session, but questions would not be allowed to lapse and would be taken up in the next session.