Pakistan Deals With Political Turmoil, Criticism During

(MENAFN) Pakistan's National Assembly has passed legislation to curb the 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. 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 and passed by the National Assembly without significant opposition. However, it has been rejected by the key opposition party and 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.

The legislation comes after a detailed descending note of the two apex court judges was issued earlier this week, in which they called for revisiting the chief justice's power, saying the country’s top court could not "be dependent on the solitary decision of one man." Justices Mansoor Ali Shah and Jamal Khan Mandokhail were part of a seven-member bench that heard former Prime Minister Imran Khan's petition to hold elections in northeastern Punjab and northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces within 90 days of their desolations under the constitutional framework. The two judges argued that the suo moto proceedings concerning the provincial elections were dismissed by a 4-3 majority and that the chief justice did not have the power to restructure benches without the consent of the respective judges.

The legislation has been supported by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who delivered a fiery speech in parliament on Tuesday, calling the dissenting note a "ray of hope." However, Asad Umar, the secretary general of Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, rejected the legislation, describing it as an "attack" on the apex court's "independence." Many believe that the legislation will not only be challenged in the Supreme Court but is likely to invite a backlash from the legal fraternity. If any legislation passed by the parliament is deemed to be in violation of the constitution, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has the authority to overturn it.

The legislation was passed at a time when the South Asian nuclear country is facing a deepening political turmoil, which is exacerbated by an ailing economy. Struggling to recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, last year's super floods, and the Russia-Ukraine war, the country is now facing decades-high inflation and critically low foreign reserves, which have fallen to slightly more than $4 billion. Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, who has long been under criticism for allegedly constituting benches of his "like-minded" judges, is currently hearing a slew of crucial cases, including the postponement of elections in the two provinces, with the president asking the Election Commission of Pakistan to hold it in Punjab on April 30. It was Justice Bandial who directed the Election Commission of Pakistan to hold elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces within a constitutional period of 90 days through a suo moto notice last month.

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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