ISLAMABAD: On Thursday, an eight-judge Supreme Court panel led by the Chief Justice will hear three petitions contesting forthcoming legislation aimed at limiting the Chief Justice’s authority.
However, the legal community has objected to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear petitions against a law that has not yet been proposed, and the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) has called on lawyers across the country to boycott courts on Thursday (today) to protest the formation of a “one-sided and contentious bench” to hear the case “prematurely.”
In addition to the CJP, the bench includes Justices Ijaz-ul-Ahsan, Munib Akhtar, Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, Mohammad Ali Mazhar, Ayesha A. Malik, Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi, and Shahid Waheed.
The bench will hear petitions challenging the SC (Practice & Procedure) Bill, 2023, which were filed separately on Tuesday by Mohammad Shafay Munir and on Wednesday by Raja Amer Khan and Chaudhry Ghulam Hussain.
President Arif Alvi had already returned the measure after both houses of parliament passed it, and it was passed again by a joint session of parliament.
The most recent petitions contend that the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023, was conceived, prepared, endorsed, and passed in bad faith. As a result, they ask the Supreme Court to strike it down, proclaiming it to be without legal authority and of no legal effect.
Respondents in the action include the federal government, the law secretary, and the main secretaries to the prime minister and president.
Petitioner Khan will be represented by Advocate Imtiaz Rashid Siddiqui, Petitioner Hussain by Advocate Mohammad Azhar Siddique, and Petitioner Munir by Advocate Mohammad Hussain.
The petitioners asked the Supreme Court to suspend the bill during the petition’s pendency, with an instruction to President Dr. Arif Alvi not to consent to the bill, preventing it from becoming an act of parliament. They argued that the federal government cannot enact legislation that interferes with or regulates the functioning of the Supreme Court or the powers granted to it or its justices, including the CJP, by the Constitution.
The challenged bill is ultra vires and an unconstitutional measure that is blatantly contrary to the constitutional mandate, according to the petitions, adding that the federal government has committed a clear violation of the Constitution.
According to the petitions, the Supreme Court and its corpus, as specified in Article 176, consists of the CJP and as many other judges as the parliament may determine or, until such determination, as the president may fix. The CJP is clearly the centrifugal force, and the entire fabric of the highest court is webbed around him. The independence of the judiciary, including each of its justices and Chief Justice, is stated as a goal in the Constitution’s preamble. According to the petitioners, this is a part of the goal resolution and hence a substantial part of the constitution.
The Supreme Court, led by the Chief Justice of Pakistan, and its judges must be independent of all executive or legislative transgressions in order to fulfill their constitutional duty in giving justice to the people of Pakistan. The same cannot be permitted to be compromised in terms of the role of the state’s judicial institution, the judges or CJP, or their independence as stipulated in the constitution.
According to the petitions, it is unthinkable that the office of CJP’s constitutional powers, including suo motu, could be restricted by the parliament.
The petitioners further claimed that the parliament could not pass legislation that contradicted the referred-to sections of the Constitution. They maintained that if an appeal might be allowed by legislative enactment, it could only be available by an amendment to the Constitution or by rules, and only in circumstances where an adverse determination of a person’s rights and obligations had occurred.
Protest letter from PBC
In a statement issued Wednesday night, the PBC criticized the speed with which challenges to the SC (Practice & Procedure) Bill were heard, as well as the establishment of “a one-sided and controversial bench” to hear the case.
Lawyers called the move an attempt to divide the highest court in the land and agreed that no law adopted by parliament had ever been prohibited from being enforced.
They stated that the legislation is in accordance with the expectations of bar councils and associations across the country and that any attempt to prevent its passage would be met with opposition.
The PBC statement, announcing a complete boycott of the courts to protest this development, stated that its officials from across the country would gather on April 17 to discuss the problem.