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Sunday June 16, 2024

Reforms for the SC

By Editorial Board
March 30, 2023

In a noteworthy session – also for the content of the speeches by members of parliament – the National Assembly on Wednesday passed the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023. Called ‘historic’ and on the other end ‘selfish, unjust, cynical’ in varying degrees by varying political actors, the law proposes to limit the chief justice of Pakistan’s discretionary powers to take suo-motu notice. The move comes after Monday’s detailed ruling by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail related to the Punjab and Khyber election suo motu by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial. The bill says that every cause, appeal or matter before the Supreme Court shall be heard and disposed by a bench constituted by a committee comprising the chief justice of Pakistan and two senior-most judges of the SC. Per the new law, any matter invoking exercise of original jurisdiction under Article 184(3) shall be first placed before the committee for examination. On a proposal tabled by MNA Mohsin Dawar, the bill has also added the right of appeal in cases decided under Article 184(3). By most accounts, this is the clause that will now give Mian Nawaz Sharif and Jahangir Khan Tareen, among others, to retrospectively appeal their lifetime disqualification. The bill now gives the right to appeal against the suo-motu verdicts taken up to 30 days before the passing of the Lawyers’ Protection Act.

The same day, Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Aminuddin Khan held that the hearing of all cases under Article 184(3) should be postponed till amendments in the Supreme Court Rules regarding the CJ’s power to form benches. A third judge did not agree with this but this has also brought forth the debate regarding formation of benches. Taken overall, a larger set of legal minds in the country has tended to agree with the law, calling it a much-needed reform. And to be fair, there is nothing sudden about these amendments. These debates have been going on for over a decade. Ever since the Lawyers’ Movement, judicial reforms have been a consistent demand – by most thinking lawyers, legal academics, even judges of the superior judiciary. Now that parliament, which is the best forum to address these issues, has tabled a bill, one would think it would have been welcomed. But, in these polarized times, one would be wrong. The PTI has criticized the bill, and said its timing makes it controversial.

But the fact is that rarely has there ever been a ‘right time’ to pass any such law in Pakistan, which suffers from a case of being too happening both politically and otherwise. This is why most legal experts are of the opinion that this is a good bill and should be made into law. With the judiciary charting into controversial waters due to recent bench formations, it is about time these matters are settled once and for all. There have been too many debates on the power of the suo motu, the bench formation powers of the CJ, the right to appeal, the process of appointing superior judges etc. Is it not finally time to answer some of these debates with concrete legislation? As some legal experts have pointed out, the SC is not just the CJP but the entire judges of the top court. And on the face of it what this bill is trying to do is to empower the whole of the SC, not one individual as has been the case till now. In the long term, this will only serve the case of justice while also clearing away some of the controversy that has come to be associated with the office and stature of the chief justice of the highest court of the land.