Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi has returned the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023 to parliament for the second time, stating that the legislation is currently sub judice before the highest judicial forum in the country. The bill is aimed at curtailing the power of the chief justice and restricting the judiciary’s ability to act independently. Despite the President’s refusal to sign the bill, it will become law on April 20, according to Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar.
The bill was passed by both the National Assembly and the Senate last month amid a standoff between the government and the judiciary over elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. After the bill was sent to the president for assent, he returned it for reconsideration to parliament, stating that it prima facie “travels beyond the competence of parliament” and could be assailed as “colourable legislation”.
The government then got the bill passed by a joint session of parliament on April 10, despite strong protest from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), after which it was again sent to the president to sign. However, an eight-member bench of the Supreme Court, while hearing petitions challenging the bill, ruled on April 13 that even if the president were to give his assent, the bill would not be acted upon in any manner until further order. The SC larger bench stated that an interim measure ought to be put in place in the nature of an anticipatory injunction.
The Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023 aims to give the power of taking suo motu notice to a three-member committee comprising senior judges, including the chief justice. It also aims to have transparent proceedings in the apex court and includes the right to appeal.
Regarding the constitution of benches, the bill states that every cause, matter or appeal before the apex court would be heard and disposed of by a bench constituted by a committee comprising the CJP and the two senior-most judges. It added that the decisions of the committee would be taken by a majority.
Regarding exercising the apex court’s original jurisdiction, the bill said that any matter invoking the use of Article 184(3) would first be placed before the committee.
The bill says that if the committee is of the view that a question of public importance with reference to the enforcement of any of the fundamental rights conferred by Chapter I of Part II of the Constitution is involved, it shall constitute a bench comprising not less than three judges of the SC of Pakistan, which may also include the members of the committee, for adjudication of the matter.
On matters where the interpretation of the Constitution is required, the bill said the committee would compose a bench comprising no less than five apex court judges.
About appeals for any verdict by an apex court bench that exercised Article 184(3)’s jurisdiction, the bill said that the appeal will be referred within 30 days of the bench’s order to a larger SC bench. It added that the appeal would be fixed for hearing within a period not exceeding 14 days.
The bill additionally said that a party would have the right to appoint its counsel of choice for filing a review application under Article 188 of the Constitution. Furthermore, it states that an application pleading urgency or seeking interim relief, filed in a cause, appeal or matter, shall be fixed for hearing within 14 days from the date of its filing.
The bill said that its provisions would have effect notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, rules, or regulations for the time being in force or judgement of any court, including the Supreme Court and high courts.
The Pakistani government has been facing criticism from opposition parties, civil society groups and legal experts for allegedly attempting to curtail the powers of the judiciary, which