Home Latest News Federal Cabinet Approves Bill to Curtail CJP’s Suo Motu Powers

Federal Cabinet Approves Bill to Curtail CJP’s Suo Motu Powers

Draft calls for three-member panel of senior-most judges to decide on suo motu proceedings, grants right to file intra-court appeal

by Staff Report

File photo of Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, courtesy PID

The federal cabinet on Tuesday approved a draft bill to curtail the unilateral authority of the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) to take suo motu notice, referring it to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice for further deliberations.

The proposed Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act, 2023 bill was introduced in the National Assembly through a supplementary agenda and followed a speech by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in which he had called on lawmakers to legislate for the upholding of the rule of law. It is likely that the standing committee would approve the bill in a meeting scheduled for today (Wednesday).

According to the draft of the bill, it would come into force immediately upon its approval by Parliament. Curtailing the CJP’s prevailing unfettered powers of bench formation, it calls for a three-member committee—comprised of the CJP and two senior-most judges in order of seniority—to constitute by majority all benches hearing every cause, appeal or matter before the Supreme Court.

Section 3 of the bill further curtails the powers of the CJP—but not the Supreme Court—to take suo motu notice: “Exercise of original jurisdiction by the Supreme Court — any matter invoking exercise of original jurisdiction under clause (3) of Article 184 of the Constitution shall be first 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 of Pakistan which may also include the members of the Committee, for adjudication of the matter.”

The bill also grants the right to intra-court appeals for suo motu rulings, saying that it must be filed within 30 days of the issuance of a final order. Once filed, the appeal would be heard by a larger bench and shall be fixed for hearing within 14 days of its filing. For filing a review application under Article 188 of the Constitution, a party shall have the right to appoint counsel of its choice, reads the draft, adding that provisions of this act “shall have effect notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, rules or regulations for the time being in force or judgment of any court, including the Supreme Court and a High Court.”

For urgent matters, the bill states, an application shall be fixed for hearing within 14 days from the date of its filing.

Speaking on the floor of the House after the bill was tabled, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said it was fulfilling a longstanding demand of bar associations and civil society for a mechanism to take suo motu notice. “In the past it has been observed that suo motu notice had been taken on petty matters like lack of parking space outside a hospital, submerging of a street in rainwater, or recovery of a bottle from an accused. Therefore, it is the need of the hour to form a mechanism to ensure transparency,” he said, adding that the draft bill also added a right to appeal as currently there is no such provision in suo motu cases.

According to Tarar, current laws only permitted lawyers who initially pursued a case to file an appeal but the new bill allowed parties to appoint any lawyer to follow their cases. Similarly, he noted, it sometimes took months for the apex court to take up appeals and the bill aimed to facilitate “prompt justice” by suggesting that appeals be taken up within 14 days of their filing.

While the ruling coalition and several legal experts have hailed the reforms as “much-needed,” the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and its affiliated lawyers have rejected it as an attempt to “pressure” the judiciary. Legal experts have also maintained that if the law is perceived to be an over-reach, the Supreme Court could exercise its right of judicial review to nullify it.

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