Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial on Monday adjourned till June 1 hearings into the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)’s review petition against the court’s order to conduct elections for the Punjab Assembly on May 14 after Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan said a new law pertaining to review of judgments had come into effect.
Appearing before a three-member bench led by the CJP and comprising Justices Ijazul Ahsan and Munib Akhtar, the AGP raised objections to the bench, referring to the Supreme Court (Review of Judgements and Orders) Bill, 2023, which became law on Sunday after the approval of President Arif Alvi. Under the new law, petitioners can change their lawyer in the appeal stage and file review petitions against orders issued under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, including those passed prior to the commencement of the Act.
At the outset of the proceedings, the AGP noted that the new law had made the scope of review and appeal the same. Under the law, he noted, review could only be heard by a larger bench and the three-member hearing the case was no longer valid. The CJP then inquired if the government had decided to “abandon” the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023 seeking to curtail the unilateral powers of the CJP to take suo motu notice. “The practice and procedure bill has been fixed for hearing on Thursday … let’s hear this case on Thursday too,” he remarked, acknowledging that the jurisdiction of Article 184(3) needed to be reviewed to “some extent.”
The CJP further asked the AGP is the respondent in the case—the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)—had been informed about the new law, to which Awan said the PTI’s lawyer, Ali Zafar, was on vacation. “We will hear this case in the presence of the other party,” said Justice Bandial, adding the court was “happy” that the new law was restricted to the jurisdiction of Article 184(3) and did not appear to infringe on judicial independence.
The top judge also instructed the AGP to take the government’s instructions on a set of petitions challenging the government-appointed judicial commission to probe audio leaks, saying this case would also resume hearings. “You must have read our order on the audio leaks commission. Keep it in mind that the court didn’t nullify the commission,” he said, adding that in all previous instances—though not required by law—a judicial commission was only formed with the assent of the CJP.
“A procedure needs to be followed when you want to investigate something.” He remarked, adding he would not form a commission that would include him and investigations could be conducted by another judge. “This political temperature won’t make the economy or security any better,” he remarked.
The ECP review petition pending before the Supreme Court argues that the apex court exceeded its mandate by announcing a date for polls in Punjab, as this was solely the authority of the ECP under the Constitution. Both the federal and Punjab governments, in their written replies to the SC, have supported the ECP’s request for the apex court to review its decision.