Hearings on petitions challenging the Supreme Court (Practise and Procedure) Act, 2023, were postponed on Monday by the highest court in Pakistan for three weeks.
Justices Ijazul Ahsan, Munib Akhtar, Sayyad Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, Muhammad Ali Mazhar, Ayesha Malik, Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi, and Shahid Waheed sat on the eight-judge bench that heard the petitions. The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Umar Ata Bandial, also sat on the bench.
At the outset of the proceedings, Attorney General Mansoor Awan announced that a motion had been made to convene a full bench. He revealed that a motion for a full court had been filed by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
Justice Ijazul Ahsan noted that a registration number had not been issued for the application.
When the court’s attorney general wasn’t sure whether or not they’d turned in the requested paperwork, the chief justice asked.
The attorney general said the parliamentary proceedings record would likely be made public on Tuesday. He said the formal and informal channels to the speaker’s office had been exhausted.
He continued by saying the court had affirmed the constitution’s essential framework and that judicial independence was a cornerstone of the document.
The Solicitor General declared that the legality of different types of courts’ benches and appeals had been determined.
The laws that reformed the legal system also included the option to switch lawyers mid-case. He explained that judicial decisions were administrative and that the Supreme Court’s regulations were established unanimously.
Mansoor Awan, the Solicitor General, has stated that only the complete court can alter the Supreme Court’s norms. He advocated for the full court to consider cases involving the integrity of the judiciary and its procedures. Mr. Awan said that the regulation would even apply to impartial judges.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan observed that changing the regulations wasn’t the issue. He further noted that different benches were often hearing cases involving legislative authority.
Whether or whether similar laws have been approved in the past was a question asked by Justice Mazahir Naqvi. The attorney general responded that rulemaking had previously required presidential approval until 1992. Justice Mazahir asked how such a law could be passed in light of Article 91.
According to Justice Ayesha Malik, the Supreme Court can assign any matter to its benches.
As of the end of the constitutional term for re-approval by the president, the Supreme Court (Practise and Procedure) Bill 2023 about judicial reforms had become an act of parliament, having been adopted by parliament on April 21 last.
During the hearing on May 2 of this month, the Supreme Court requested the record of the parliamentary proceedings while denying the motion to form a full court bench to hear the relevant case and remove Justice Mazahir Naqvi from the bench.
Similar petitions were submitted by Advocate Muhammad Shafay Munir, Raja Amer Khan, Chaudhry Ghulam Hussain, and others under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over any case involving a question of “public importance” concerning the “enforcement of any of the fundamental rights” of Pakistani citizens, as outlined in Article 184(3) of the Constitution.
The purpose of the Supreme Court (Practise and Procedure) Bill 2023 is to limit the personal suo motu authority of the CJP.
After initial approval by both chambers, it was delivered to the president for signature. However, the president rejected it, claiming the proposed law was “beyond the competence of parliament.” After various alterations, the bill was approved by a joint session of parliament.
On April 13, after hearing three petitions challenging the bill, the eight-person Supreme Court bench ruled that the “comes into being” act “shall not have, take or be given any effect nor be acted upon in any manner” until the court could rule on the merits of the petitions.
The majority coalition government immediately disapproved of the supreme court’s decision. On April 19, President Dr. Arif Alvi again declined to sign the bill and sent it back to parliament, making it an act of parliament on April 21.
The bill stipulates that the decision to take up an issue suo motu would be made by a three-member bench consisting of the Chief Justice of the Philippines and the two most senior judges of the Supreme Court. This used to fall under the exclusive purview of the CJP.
According to the proposed legislation, the chief justice and the two most senior justices will form a bench to hear and rule on all cases, appeals, and other matters brought before the highest court.
The law also mandates that no fewer than five judges sit on a bench for any constitutional interpretation case and that the deadline to file an appeal in a suo motu case is 30 days.
Ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif and other lawmakers (like Jahangir Tareen) disqualified by the Supreme Court’s suo motu powers will have 30 days from the law’s passage to file an appeal challenging their disqualification.
On Friday, Pakistan’s Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial indicated that if talks between the government and the PTI failed, the Supreme Court would act according to the constitution and not sit on its hands on the May 14 election problem. After the coalition government and the main opposition party, PTI, sat down for three days to try to discuss the issue; the Supreme Court resumed hearing the case about holding general elections for the National Assembly and provincial assembly in one go.