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Government submits bill to NA to modify CJP's suo motu authority

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A three-person committee will make suo motu decisions. Decisions made via suo motu notice may also be contested. Suo motu notifications, according to the minister, harmed SC’s reputation. ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023 was introduced on Tuesday by Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar in an effort to curtail the top court of Pakistan’s discretionary powers to take suo motu notice. A day prior, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail of the Supreme Court questioned the CJP’s authority, saying the high court “cannot be dependent on the solitary decision of one man, the Chief Justice.” In a 27-page dissenting note for the supreme court’s March 1 decision in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa suo motu, Justice Shah and Justice Mandokhail stated that “this court cannot be dependent on the solitary decision of one man, the Chief Justice, but must be regulated through a rule-based system approved by all judges of the court under Article 191 of the Constitution.” Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also called for legislative action in this respect during his statement on the house floor during the NA session, referring to the dissenting note as “a ray of hope.” The prime minister, whose party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, has accused the court of “bench-fixing,” stated that “the voices for change stemming from the judiciary itself is certainly a ray of hope for the country.” Speaking on the floor of the parliament, the law minister claimed that the measures conducted under the guise of suo motu notices had tarnished the top court’s credibility. The minister noted that there was a time when suo motu notifications were issued on frivolous topics and that some review cases had previously been postponed or not scheduled for hearing. Building on the point, he said that the two justices’ opposing opinions had raised further questions. Tarar further stated that judgements made pursuant to suo motu notifications were not subject to prior appeal. The law minister added, “The Parliament has always requested that the right to appeal should be granted. It is vital to have the opportunity to challenge a decision. The NA Standing Committee on Law and Justice will meet tomorrow (Wednesday) morning under the chairmanship of Chaudhry Mahmood Bashir Virk after receiving the proposed bill from the house for further consideration. It will be returned to the lower house by the committee. The measure will be forwarded to the Senate for approval when the NA has approved it.

The bill

The measure involves transferring the chief justice’s suo motu notice authority to a three-judge committee made up of three senior judges. The measure also contains a provision that grants the opportunity to appeal the judgement; this right may be used within 30 days, after which a hearing will be scheduled for two weeks. Every issue, appeal, or case before the Supreme Court is to be considered and decided by a bench made up of the CJP and two senior judges, in order of seniority, according to the law, a copy of which was viewed by HP News. The committee’s decision must be made by a majority, according to the measure. However, the two SC justices contrasted “dictatorship” with majority rule in their thorough comments. “Making decisions solely based on the will of the majority is no less dictatorship, and the absolutist approach to divisive issues is the mark of extremists,” they claimed. The bill also stated that any matter involving the exercise of original jurisdiction under paragraph (3) of Article 184 of the Constitution must be brought before the committee established under section 2 for review. If the committee determines that the matter involves a matter of public importance pertaining to the enforcement of any of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Chapter I of Part II of the constitution, it shall appoint a bench consisting of not less than three members but also two alternates. The committee must assemble a bench of at least five justices of the supreme court to hear cases involving the interpretation of constitutional provisions. The measure also allows a party to select a lawyer of its choosing when submitting a request for a review under Article 188 of the Constitution. It should be emphasised that the term “counsel” in this context refers to a Supreme Court advocate. The measure stated that “a cause, appeal, or matter shall be fixed for hearing within fourteen days from the date of the filing of any application pleading urgency or seeking interim relief.”

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