Islamabad: Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday heard petitions against the bill curtailing the country’s chief justice’s power and issued notices to the federal government and political parties, amidst a raging row between the ruling coalition and the judiciary.
The apex court adjourned the hearing till next week, saying that the date for the proceedings will be announced as per the availability of the judges.
At the hearing, Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial said the independence of the judiciary was an important matter but at the same time noted that he had the utmost respect for parliament, the Dawn newspaper reported.
An eight-judge bench of the apex court heard the petitions against the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023, which seeks to curtail the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s powers to initiate suo motu proceedings and constitute benches on his own.
Besides Chief Justice Bandial, the larger bench comprises Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Muneeb Akhtar, Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, Justice Ayesha Malik, Justice Hasan Azhar Rizvi, and Justice Shahid Waheed.
During the hearing on Thursday, the court issued notices to the political parties, the federal government, Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Awan, Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, and other respondents in the case.
As the hearing commenced, AGP Awan and the petitioner’s lawyers Advocate Azhar Siddique and Advocate Imtiaz Rashid Siddiqui were present in the courtroom.
Advocate Imtiaz said that in the current scenario, the case held a lot of importance. He stated that ever since the National Assembly was restored in April last year, the political divide and crisis had increased.
He further argued that the federal government and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) were not willing to hold elections, thus the court itself had to take notice of the matter and order the ECP to conduct polls.
“On April 3, the court ordered elections, however, after the court’s directives to follow the Constitution, more problems were created. The court and judges were criticised personally,” he said.
Imtiaz held government ministers and parliamentarians responsible for this.
The lawyer stated that the proposed legislation interfered with the independence of the judiciary.
He said that after approval from both houses, the bill was sent to the president who raised objections and sent it back to the assembly.
However, the president’s objections were not reviewed, he said, adding that the bill would become law in ten days after approval by the joint session.
“Under Article 191 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court makes its own rules,” he said.
“The basic question is whether this bill is worthy of becoming a law,” the lawyer said, asserting that it was illegal for the cabinet to ratify the bill.
“Bill presentation and approval in the cabinet are both administrative matters,” he said.
Presenting the bill in the National Assembly and getting approval is also unconstitutional, he said, arguing that whether the president gave his assent or not, the proposed act would eventually become a part of the law.
Imtiaz noted that the Supreme Court could invalidate the bill passed by Parliament, adding that the top court could not exist without the Chief Justice.
“The Supreme Court completes its work with the appointment of the CJP and even if there are other judges without the Chief Justice, the court is not complete,” he was quoted as saying by the Express Tribune newspaper.
Earlier on Thursday, the federal coalition issued a joint statement rejecting the eight-member bench, saying that the apex court’s move to form a “controversial bench” even before the completion of the legislative process was “unprecedented” and “unacceptable.”