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Friday June 21, 2024

Missing bill

By Editorial Board
August 16, 2023

Pakistan’s politics can be frustrating and bizarre at the same time. But in a country where people go missing on a regular basis, perhaps one of the most bizarre things that seem to happen are missing pieces of legislation. From a missing persons bill going missing quite ironically to a prime minister somehow ‘losing’ a confidential cipher to now yet another case of a missing bill, one wonders how exactly the loftiest institution of the country – parliament, as well as the executive – can simply misplace legislation or important documents. In the latest mystery of missing legislation, Senator Irfan Siddiqui of the PML-N has written to Speaker of the National Assembly Raja Pervez Ashraf about a bill titled ‘Code of Criminal Procedure Amendment Act, 2022’ that he says has miraculously gone missing. It had apparently been sent for presidential assent fourteen months ago after being approved by both houses of Parliament.

The story, as told by Senator Irfan Siddiqui in his letter, goes somewhat like this: During the PTI government, the bill was moved in the Senate and approved by the Senate’s standing committee on home affairs. Then on May 23, 2022 the bill was approved by the Senate and on June 8, 2022 (under the PDM government), it was approved by the National Assembly, after which on June 21, the bill was sent to the president for formal approval. In August 2022, the president’s office said that no such bill had been received. To provide context to the story, the bill is essentially about separating the executive, seeking to substitute ‘special judicial magistrates’ with judicial magistrates designated for cases of petty crimes in summary trials. In July 2019, Senator Siddiqui had been arrested and was presented before an assistant commissioner and was later sent to Adiala Jail on judicial remand for fourteen days. After becoming a member of the Senate, he drafted a bill for the complete separation of the executive from the judiciary, to update an old law in keeping with the requirements of the constitution.

Regardless of what the bill does or does not say, the fact is that the bill was approved by both houses of parliament. It was then sent to the president for approval. Had there been any reservations regarding the bill, why were they not raised during the law-making process? The senator’s letter to the speaker also says that he had even raised this issue in parliament but nothing happened. He has now asked for a commission of inquiry to be made to look into the matter, terming the bill’s disappearance ‘a blatant insult’ to parliament. What is most alarming is that a sitting parliamentarian can raise such an issue and the issue is still ignored – by parliamentarians and the executive both. What hope then for regular folks in the country?