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Pakistan PM Sharif urges parliament to curtail powers of Chief Justice

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Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday said that “history would not forgive us” if parliament did not enact laws to curtail the powers of the chief justice, a day after two Supreme Court judges questioned the suo motu powers of the country’s top judge.

Addressing the joint session of parliament, Sharif talked at length about the dissenting judgement by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail of the Supreme Court, who lashed out at the unlimited authority of the Chief Justice to take a suo motu (on its own) action on any issue and constitute benches of choice to hear different cases.

Their judgment was about the case of suo motu notice taken by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial on February 22 about elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.

Speaking passionately about the need for new laws to limit the chief justice’s power, Sharif said that if the legislation were not passed, “history would not forgive us”.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Cabinet has reportedly approved the draft of a legislation on Tuesday seeking to curtail the discretionary powers of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, The Express Tribune newspaper reported.

The bill, a copy of which is available with the newspaper, says that a committee of the three senior-most judges of the Supreme Court would decide on any suo motu case being taken up by the apex court under Article 184 (3) of the Constitution.

The suo motu power is based on the original jurisdiction of the court under Article 184 of the Constitution. However, its usage over the years has created an impression of partiality on the Chief Justices’ part.

It was openly challenged for the first time by the two judges who were part of a bench that, in its 3-2 majority decision of March 1, directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to consult with President Arif Alvi for polls in Punjab and Governor Ghulam Ali for elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The five-member bench was reconstituted by Bandial, who took a suo motu action against the delay in elections and initially formed a nine-member bench to deal with the issue. However, two of the nine judges differed with the decision to take suo motu notice, while two other judges recused themselves, prompting the Chief Justice to form a new bench.

Justice Shah and Justice Mandokhail, in their detailed 28-page dissenting note, also rejected the 3-2 judgment in the suo motu case by saying that it was a 4-3 judgment to reject the maintainability of the case and lambasted the Chief Justice’s power to form a bench for important cases.

The coalition government led by Prime Minister Sharif, which is supporting the ECP’s decision to delay the election in the two provinces until October 8, is trying to use the parliament to curtail the powers of the Chief Justice.

The premier also said that the courts were treating Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan favourably and were not ready to hold Khan accountable.

Sharif said that “enough is enough” and the law would take its course while the government would not allow “the favourite” to play with Pakistan.

He added that the Constitution clearly defined the division of powers between the legislature, judiciary and administration and set a red line that no one should cross.

The powers of the legislature defined by the Constitution and the powers of the judiciary were being flouted, the prime minister said.

The joint session of parliament was summoned last week to discuss the key issues confronting Pakistan and provide guidelines to deal with those issues.

The development comes as the top court is hearing a case about the decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan to postpone the provincial election till October 8, well beyond the 90 days deadline by the constitution to hold elections after the dissolution of an assembly.

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( With inputs from www.siasat.com )

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