Pakistan’s parliament passes bill curtailing chief justice’s powers

Islamabad, Apr 10 (EFE).- A joint session of the two houses of the Pakistani parliament on Monday passed a bill with a majority of votes to curtail the powers of the country’s top judge amid an ongoing row between the higher judiciary and the government.

The bill bars the chief justice of the Pakistani Supreme Court from taking suo-motto notice of matters of national interest and forming benches of judges, to hear different cases, on his own.

President Arif Alvi had returned the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023 for reconsideration after it was passed by both houses separately.

As per law, any bill passed by the Senate (the upper house) and National Assembly (lower house), requires the president’s signatures to become a law.

If the president returns any bill to the parliament, it needs to be approved by a joint sitting of the parliament.

Once the bill is again presented to the president for his assent, he needs to approve it within 10 days, or it is considered automatically approved, as per the norms.

On Monday, lawmakers from opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) protested against the passing of the bill, tearing its copies in protest.

“Attack on the judiciary, unacceptable,” the lawmakers chanted.

The chair of the joint sitting, Raja Pervez Ashraf, announced that the bill was approved with a clear majority, with the proceedings being broadcast live on TV.

According to the legislation, the powers to take suo-motto cognizance of matters of national interest and the appointing of benches will now pass to a three-member committee headed by the chief justice, with the two other senior-most judges as members.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government and the higher judiciary have locked horns in recent days over the organization of snap polls in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) provinces.

The provincial assemblies of both the provinces, ruled by former prime minister Imran Khan’s PTI, were dissolved earlier this year as part of a PTI bid to force early general elections.

However, the government has refused to hold early elections in both provinces citing the worsened economic and security situation prevailing in the country.

Subsequently, a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial had – taking a suo-motto notice – ordered the election commission to hold snap polls in both provinces within 90 days of the dissolution of their assemblies, a deadline that is ending on April 30.

But the electoral body announced that the elections would be delayed until October, when the general elections are also due.

On a PTI petition, the top court again ordered the commission to hold the Punjab elections on May 14, even as another PTI petition on the KPK polls remain pending.

The court verdict has come under fire from the federal government, which refused to accept it and passed a resolution in the national assembly rejecting the apex court’s decision.

The ruling dispensation has demanded Bandial’s resignation citing his “glaring tilt” in favor of the PTI.

The chief justice is also facing misconduct allegations in a complaint before the Supreme Judicial Council, a body that has the power of removing him if found guilty.

Pakistan has witnessed continuous political turmoil since April 2022, when Imran Khan was ousted from power through a no-confidence motion. Khan has alleged that his ouster was part of a conspiracy involving the military and foreign actors. EFE

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