Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has criticised President Arif Alvi for returning the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023, unsigned. The bill, which was aimed at curtailing the powers of the chief justice, including the suo motu and the formation of benches, had already been approved by both houses of the parliament last month. The PTI has strongly condemned the move to pass the legislation, calling it an “attack on the judiciary”. In a hard-hitting tweet, the prime minister said the president had belittled his office by acting as a worker of the PTI, one who is beholden to Imran Niazi more than the Constitution & demands of his Office.
President Alvi has sought the advice of PTI Chairman Imran Khan on several crucial matters, including the appointment of the chief of army staff. In his letter to PM Shehbaz Sharif, President Alvi said that he thought it fit and proper to return the bill, in accordance with the Constitution, with the request for reconsideration in order to meet the scrutiny about its validity (if assailed in the Court of Law).
The bill was passed in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to order elections in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa within 90 days of their dissolution, among other such decisions. The federal cabinet had requested that the president immediately sign the bill, in an effort to resolve the country’s constitutional and political crisis.
However, after Alvi’s refusal to assent to the legislation, the government is likely to get through this bill from a joint session of the parliament. The president returned the bill for reconsideration to the parliament as per the provisions of the Article 75 of the Constitution, stating that the bill prima-facie travels beyond the competence of the parliament and can be assailed as colourable legislation.
The president’s letter to PM Shehbaz Sharif also noted that SC Rules 1980 had been “made and in force duly validated and adopted by the Constitution itself” under enabling provisions such as Article 191 of the Constitution which empowers the top court to make rules regulating the practice and procedure of the court.
President Alvi said that these time-tested rules are being followed ever since the year 1980, and any tinkering with the same may tantamount to interference with the internal working of the Court, its autonomy and independence.
In conclusion, the disagreement between President Alvi and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif over the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023, has intensified the ongoing political and constitutional crisis in Pakistan. The bill, which was aimed at curtailing the powers of the chief justice, had already been approved by both houses of the parliament last month. The president’s decision to return the bill for reconsideration has been met with criticism from the federal cabinet and the prime minister, who have accused him of following the PTI chief’s orders rather than fulfilling his constitutional duties. The future of the bill remains uncertain as the government is likely to get through it from a joint session of the parliament.