Pak Supreme Court resumes hearing pleas against act curtailing chief justice’s powers

Islamabad: Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Monday resumed the hearing on the pleas challenging the newly enacted law aimed at clipping the powers of the chief justice.

The bill, titled the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023, was aimed at depriving the office of the CJP of powers to take suo motu notice in an individual capacity.

The draft law was initially passed by both houses of Parliament in March and sent to President Arif Alvi for his assent. However, the president sent it back, saying that the proposed law travelled “beyond the competence of Parliament”. The bill was subsequently adopted by a joint session of Parliament on April 10 — albeit with some amendments.

The top court — while hearing three petitions challenging the then-bill — in an “anticipatory injunction” on April 13, barred the government from enforcing the draft law, saying the move would “prevent the imminent apprehended danger that is irreparable” as soon as it became an act of parliament.

An eight-member larger bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial is hearing the pleas on Monday.

At the outset of Monday’s hearing, Attorney General of Pakistan Mansoor Usman Awan informed the court that a plea had been filed for the formation of a full court to hear the case. “The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has also filed a petition for the formation of a full court,” he said.

Justice Ahsan noted that the government’s plea had not yet been fixed for hearing. He then asked the AGP whether the documents sought by the court at the previous hearing had been submitted, the Dawn newspaper reported.

Awan replied that he expected to receive the record of parliamentary proceedings by tomorrow and had also contacted the National Assembly Speaker in the matter.

“The judiciary’s independence is a fundamental element of the Constitution,” the AGP added. He said that the law in question had set out the procedure for constituting benches as well as dealing with appeals.

“The matters decided in the law are administrative in nature,” he said, arguing that the SC’s rules were formulated by a full court.

He said that decisions and cases concerning the judiciary’s independence and rules should involve a full court, adding that the law would also be applicable on judges that were not hearing the case.

Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan, however, said that the matter at hand concerned the power to legislate and not changes to the Supreme Court rules. “Various benches have been routinely hearing cases relating to legislative powers,” he said.

The PML-N party-led federal government maintains serious reservations against the eight-member bench, and earlier in May even urged the Supreme Court to reject the petitions challenging the law passed by Parliament.