Thursday September 28, 2023

NA passes Contempt of Parliament Bill

Anyone found guilty of contempt shall be punished with up to six months in jail, a Rs10m fine, or both

By Our Correspondent
May 17, 2023
An undated picture of the National Assembly. — APP/File
An undated picture of the National Assembly. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Tuesday passed the Contempt of Majlis-i-Shoora (Parliament) Bill, 2023, which aims to provide punishment for contempt of parliament or any committee.

The bill, introduced by Chairman of the Standing Committee on Rules of Procedure and Privileges Rana Muhammad Qasim Noon as a private member’s bill, condemns and penalises actions that undermine the sovereignty and integrity of parliament in any form.

Amendments proposed by Minister for Commerce Syed Qamar were adopted by the house.

According to the amendments, the committee may make rules under the act’s purposes through a notification in the official gazette.

Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training Rana Tanveer Hussain commended the bill, highlighting its potential to enhance the oversight role of parliament. Rana Muhammad Qasim Noon, the bill’s mover, described it as a historic moment in the country’s parliamentary history, emphasising that it would ensure the supremacy of parliament, which is the mother of all institutions. He said that similar legislation exists in the four provinces but not at the federal level. He said that this legislation would facilitate the proper functioning of standing committees and strengthen parliamentary oversight.

Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training Rana Tanveer Hussain also appreciated the bill, emphasising the need for parliament to assert its supremacy in all forms. He questioned the practice of senior officials not being present in the galleries despite orders from the speaker when the house is discussing matters related to their ministries, while they promptly appear before courts. According to the bill, the house can charge any person for contempt of a house through a motion, and the speaker or the chairman of the Senate may refer the matter to the Contempt Committee. If the committee believes that someone should be charged with contempt, the chairman of that committee can move such a motion in the house.

Within 30 days of the bill becoming an act, the speaker shall constitute a Contempt Committee for the purposes stated in the act. The Contempt Committee will comprise 24 members with equal representation from each house. The Contempt Committee will consist of 14 members from the Treasury Benches, nominated by the Leader of the House, including seven members from each House, and 10 members from the opposition benches, nominated by the Leader of the Opposition of each house.

The bill ensures that each person is provided with the right to a fair trial, as enshrined in the Constitution. However, no person shall be allowed to appear before the committee through a legal practitioner or an advocate. In its first meeting, the Contempt Committee will elect a chairman from among its members.

The Contempt Committee will have powers equivalent to those vested in a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (V of 1908), to enforce the attendance of any person and compel the production of documents. The chairman may summon any person to appear before the committee, provide evidence, or produce documents in the possession or under control. Such summons shall be duly signed by the committee secretary.

Upon the committee’s recommendations, a house will have the power to impose any of the punishments prescribed under this act. Anyone found guilty of contempt of a house or a committee shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term of up to six months, a fine of up to Rs 10 million, or both.

Any decision made by a house shall be executed and enforced by a judicial magistrate within whose territorial jurisdiction the accused is temporarily residing, as per the relevant provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (V of 1898). An appeal against any decision of a house can be filed before the joint sitting within 30 days of the announcement of the decision. The joint sitting may refer such appeals to the committee, which shall provide its final report within 30.

The Majlis-i-Shoora (parliament) may prescribe rules regarding the procedure for such appeals. All proceedings before the committee shall be deemed quasi-judicial proceedings, and any document produced or evidence recorded by the committee shall not be admissible as evidence in any court.

Any person giving evidence or producing documents before the committee shall not be liable to any civil, criminal, or departmental proceedings for any reason. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, while addressing the house, highlighted the coalition government’s efforts to provide maximum relief to the people. He mentioned the recent reduction in petroleum product prices, including a decrease of Rs 30 per liter in diesel and Rs 12 per liter in petrol.

The finance minister urged transporters to reduce fares in consideration of the reduction in petroleum product prices, especially diesel. He emphasised that it is the responsibility of all, including the provincial governments, to ensure that the benefit of this relief reaches the common man.

Responding to a point raised by Akbar Chitrali, Ishaq Dar stated that the government is working to promote Islamic banking in the country. He mentioned the establishment of a committee comprising eminent scholars, working on a fast-track basis to further enhance the scope of Islamic banking. The house also passed a resolution recommending that a Hajj advisory committee be constituted to oversee Hajj arrangements. Moved by Shagufta Jumani, the resolution said the committee would comprise the minister for religious affairs, chairmen of the standing committees of the National Assembly and the Senate for religious affairs, and members of both houses.