Friday July 19, 2024

Bill criminalising 'contempt of parliament' gets NA nod

Legislation seeks up to six-month imprisonment and Rs1 million fine for "anti-parliament actions"

By Web Desk
May 16, 2023
An undated picture of the National Assembly. — APP/File
An undated picture of the National Assembly. — APP/File

In a significant development, the “Contempt of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) Bill, 2023,” which seeks to criminalise actions against parliament, was unanimously passed by the National Assembly on Tuesday.

The bill seeks up to six-month imprisonment and Rs1 million fine for actions that amounted to “breach of the sovereignty and integrity of the legislature in any form or shade”.

The bill was approved after it was presented in the lower house by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) dissident lawmaker and Chairman Standing Committee on Rules of Procedure and Privileges Rana Qasim Noon. The session was chaired by NA Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf.

Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training Rana Tanveer Hussain appreciated the bill and said that this would help to improve the oversight role of parliament.

“Law on contempt of parliament was the need of the hour,” Tanveer said, adding that there was a law for every institution’s contempt but not of parliament.

Under the proposed legislation, a 24-member Parliamentary Contempt Committee will be formed to investigate contempt of parliament cases. The committee will include equal members of the opposition and government, as per the proposal.

Under the bill, the committee can summon any state or government official for contempt of Parliament.

As per the proposal, the committee will submit a report to the NA speaker and Senate chairman who will then determine the punishment of the concerned person as per the recommendations.

According to this bill, a house through a motion may charge any person for contempt of a house and; the speaker or the Senate chairman, may refer the matter to the Contempt Committee. When a Committee is of the view that any person shall be charged for its contempt, the chairman of that committee may move such motion in the House.

The speaker shall within thirty days of the commencement of this Act, constitute a Contempt Committee for the purposes mentioned in this Act. The Contempt Committee shall consist of twenty-four members having equal representation from each house.

The Contempt Committee shall have fourteen members from the Treasury Benches, duly nominated by the Leader of the House including seven Members from each House and ten from the opposition Benches, five from each House duly nominated by the Leader of the Opposition of each House.

Secretary, National Assembly Secretariat shall act as the Secretary of the Contempt Committee. Decisions of the contempt Committee shall be the decision of the majority of members present and voting shall be in the form of recommendations.

The bill states that the right of fair trial as enshrined in the Constitution shall be provided to each but no one shall be allowed to appear before the Committee through a legal practitioner or an advocate. The Contempt Committee in its first meeting shall elect a Chairman from amongst its members.

A House, on recommendations of the committee, shall have the power to award any of the punishments prescribed under this Act: Whoever is found guilty of contempt of a House or a Committee shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or with fine which may extend to one million rupees or with both.

Calls for moving a contempt of parliament bill came after the incumbent government expressed its frustration over the Supreme Court and other state institution's involvement in the matters of the executive.

In line with those calls, the NA's Standing Committee on Rules of Procedure and Privileges earlier this month gave the go-ahead to table a “contempt of parliament bill” on the floor of the House.

— Additional input from APP