Tuesday, March 28, 2023
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Cabinet approves bill to amend top court’s suo motu powers

Following go-ahead, bill will now be tabled in National Assembly for clearance from lower house

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chairing a meeting of the federal cabinet in this undated photo. — APP/File
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chairing a meeting of the federal cabinet in this undated photo. — APP/File

  • Bill will now be tabled in NA for clearance from lower house.
  • It will be presented in Senate on Thursday for final approval.
  • A committee comprising 3 senior judges will take sou motu decision.


ISLAMABAD: In a bid to limit the discretionary powers to take suo motu notice by Pakistan's top judge, the federal cabinet on Tuesday approved the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023, sources told Geo News.

The development came a day after two Supreme Court judges — Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail — raised questions over the powers of the CJP, saying the apex court “cannot be dependent on the solitary decision of one man, the Chief Justice”.

“This court cannot be dependent on the solitary decision of one man, the Chief Justice, but must be regulated through a rule-based system approved by all judges of the court under Article 191 of the Constitution," Justice Shah and Justice Mandokhail wrote in a 27-page document for the apex court's March 1 verdict in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa suo motu.

Earlier today, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also sought parliamentary action in this regard, terming the move "a ray of hope".

"The voices for change stemming from the judiciary itself is certainly a ray of hope for the country," he said.

The amendments were discussed during the federal cabinet meeting today after which the sources told Geo News that after the approval of the bill a committee comprising three senior judges will take the decision regarding the sou motu notice.

Following the approval, the bill will now be tabled in the National Assembly for clearance from the lower house of parliament.

Moreover, the amended bill also includes a clause regarding the rights of challenging the notice which could be filed within 30 days and will then be fixed for a hearing in two weeks’ time.

They further added that the house will send the proposed bill to the NA Standing Committee on Law and Justice for further approval — which will meet tomorrow (Wednesday) morning under the chair of Chaudhry Mahmood Bashir Virk.

It was also learnt that the standing committee will be tasked to pass the bill tomorrow after which the National Assembly will give its final nod.

After the clearance from all platforms, the bill will be tabled in Senate on Thursday for final approval.

According to the bill — a copy of which was seen by TheNews.com — every clause, appeal or matter before the Supreme Court shall be heard and disposed of by a bench constituted by the committee comprising the CJP and two senior judges, in order of seniority.

The bill also mentioned that the decision of the committee shall be by the majority. However, the two SC judges in their detailed notes had juxtaposed majority rule with “dictatorship”.

They said: “Taking all decisions only by majority rule is no less dictatorship, and the absolutist approach to controversial issues is the hallmark of extremists.”

It was also mentioned in the bill that any matter invoking the exercise of original jurisdiction under clause (3) of Article 184 of the Constitution shall be placed before the committee constituted under section 2 for examination and if the committee is of the view that a question of public importance with reference to enforcement of any of the fundamental rights conferred by Chapter I of Part II of the constitution is involved, it shall constitute a bench comprising not less than three judges of the Supreme Court which may also include the members of the committee, for adjudication of the matter.

Meanwhile, in matters where interpretation of the constitutional provision is involved, the committee shall constitute a bench comprising not less than five judges of the apex court.

The bill also grants the party to appoint counsel of its choice for filing a review application under Article 188 of the Constitution. It should be noted that the counsel, for this purpose, shall mean an advocate of the Supreme Court.

“An application pleading urgency or seeking interim relief, filed in a cause, appeal or matter, shall be fixed for hearing within fourteen days from the date of its filing,” the bill read.