(MENAFN) Pakistan's lower house has passed a set of legislation curbing key powers of the chief justice of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court Practice and Procedure Bill 2023 removes the chief justice's authority to take a suo moto notice, a legal term used in South Asian countries to refer to actions taken by courts on their own initiative without a request from the parties concerned. This has long been a source of contention between the top judiciary and governments, with several bar councils also opposing the controversial power. The bill also deprives the chief justice of the authority to constitute the benches of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The legislation was approved by the cabinet in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Islamabad on Tuesday. It was then passed by the National Assembly without significant opposition. The bill will now be sent to the Senate for approval, where the ruling alliance has the required majority. If approved, it will be sent to the president for his signature before becoming law.
Under the fresh legislation, a three-member bench consisting of the chief justice and the two senior-most judges will decide whether or not to take a suo moto notice. Previously, it was solely the prerogative of the chief justice. Every cause, matter, or appeal before the apex court will be heard and disposed of by a bench constituted by a committee made up of the chief justice and the two senior-most judges. The committee's decisions will be taken by a majority. The bill also includes the right to file an appeal within 30 days of the judgment in a suo moto case and states that any case involving constitutional interpretation will not have a bench of fewer than five judges.
Legal experts cited by Geo News have said that the bill allows several parliamentarians, including former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former Premier Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, who have been disqualified by the Supreme Court under suo moto action, to appeal their disqualification within 30 days of the law's enactment. However, the legislation has been criticized by some as a move to undermine the independence of the judiciary and give the government more control over the country's legal system.
Overall, the passage of this legislation is a significant development in Pakistan's legal and political landscape. It curbs the powers of the chief justice and restricts the use of suo moto notices, which have been a source of tension between the judiciary and governments. However, it remains to be seen how the bill will be received in the Senate and by the public, who may view it as an attempt by the government to undermine the independence of the judiciary.
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