Coalition parties reject ‘controversial’ SC bench formed to take up SC bill

Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar (C) addresses a press conference along with Adviser to PM Qamar Zaman Kaira (R) and other leaders of the coalition parties in Islamabad, on April 13, 2023, in this still taken from a video. — YouTube/PTVNews
Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar (C) addresses a press conference along with Adviser to PM Qamar Zaman Kaira (R) and other leaders of the coalition parties in Islamabad, on April 13, 2023, in this still taken from a video. — YouTube/PTVNews

ISLAMABAD: The ruling alliance on Thursday rejected the formation of an eight-member “controversial” bench of the Supreme Court that will take up a set of petitions challenging the bill clipping the chief justice’s powers.

In a statement issued today ahead of the SC hearing, the coalition partners vowed to resist attempts to take away parliament’s authority and to interfere in its constitutional domain.

The hard-hitting response to the constitution of the bench headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial came just hours before the hearing was set to start.

The SC bench also includes Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, Justice Ayesha Malik, Justice Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi and Justice Shahid Waheed.

None of the judges who raised questions on the powers of the CJP were included in the bench.

The bench will take up four petitions challenging the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023 amidst a boycott by the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) of court proceedings in protest “against fixation of pleas in haste”.

A late-night announcement, made by PBC Vice Chairman Haroonur Rashid and Executive Committee Vice Chairman Hassan Raza Pasha, said that the chief justice constituted the bench in haste for hearing the petitions.

They said that the lawyers’ community would boycott the court proceedings across the country on Thursday.

Earlier this week, the bill — clipping CJP powers — was passed by a joint sitting of parliament after President Dr Arif Alvi returned it for “reconsideration”.

Subsequently, three separate petitions were filed by Raja Amer Khan, Chaudhry Ghulam Hussain and Mohammad Shafay Munir, among others, under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, asking the top court to set aside the bill.

In its statement today, the ruling alliance termed the development “unprecedented” as the pleas were admitted even before the completion of the legislative process. 

It said that this is equivalent to sabotaging the credibility of the country’s highest court, making the constitutional process of justice “meaningless”.

“This bench itself is a testament to the division of the SC, which once again supports the earlier stated position of the ruling parties,” the statement read, adding that the ruling alliance considers this as an “attack” on the parliament and its authority.

Highlighting the loopholes in the formation of the “controversial” bench — which does not include any of the judges who raised questions on the powers of the CJP — the coalition parties lamented the non-inclusion of judges from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

While “strongly condemning” the move, the statement added that attempts to snatch the authority of the parliament and to interfere in its constitutional domain will be resisted.

“No compromise will be made on the authority of the parliament in the light of the Constitution of Pakistan,” the statement reiterated.

The statement mentioned that the top court judges — Justice Isa and Justice Khan — had in their earlier judgments openly expressed their objection to the “one-man show”, biased and dictatorial behaviour, and the formation of special benches.

“With the formation of the eight-member controversial bench, the facts stated in the judgments of these honourable judges have become more clear,” the statement read.

“The constitution of the controversial bench in haste and fixing the bill for hearing, apart from the will and intent, also clearly expresses the decision to come which is sad and tantamount to murder of justice,” the ruling alliance maintained.

‘Alarming situation’

Minutes after the statement was released, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar addressed a press conference along with ruling alliance leaders Qamar Zaman Kaira and Amin-ul-Haq and other members of the coalition parties.

Tarar reiterated that bill can be challenged by the citizens once its legislation, adding that the entire situation is “alarming” as the petitions against the “pre-mature” bill are being heard by a “selective bench”.

He said that the bench does not comprise two senior-most judges and those placed on number five, seven, and eight according to the list of seniority are not part of the bench.

The bench is constituted on a “pick and choose” basis, the law minister said, adding that there is a conflict of interest as the bill was passed against the CJP and he himself was leading the bench.

He clarified the bill was “pre-mature” because it has not yet become an Act as the president returned the bill without signing it; however, it was fixed for hearing in a haste and a bench was formed.

Tarar said that all the bar councils unanimously rejected the formation of the bench. “Pakistan Bar Council, Sindh Bar Council, Balochistan Bar Council, Punjab Bar Council, Islamabad Capital Territory Bar Council and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bar Council boycotted the eight-member bench constituted to hear the pleas against the pre-mature bill,” he added.

He said that the perception that a rift has been created between the parliament and the judiciary it is not because of the former.

“The parliament has the right as per the law and constitution to legislate for the interest of the people and to make the institutions strong,” he added.

Tarar further added that all the coalition partners agree that it is not the right time to take up pleas against the bill as it has not yet been legislated.

He said that the institutions are interfering with the parliament’s right to make laws, hoping that the bench would be dissolved today.

‘We want benches to be constituted in a balanced manner’

Advisor to the Prime Minister on Kashmir Affairs and PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira said that the bill is with the parliament and hasn’t been signed by the president yet but the Supreme Court has taken up the pleas against it.

“Do you want to prevent the parliament from using its authority? We will not accept it and not compromise on it,” Kaira emphasised.

Shedding light on the constitution of the bench, the PPP leader said that the parties do not agree with this method.

He said that the rifts among institutions are leading the country towards a bad situation. “We only want the benches to be constituted in a balanced and proper manner,” he added.

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