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SC law interfered in court’s independence: Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan



ISLAMABAD: Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan of the Supreme Court on Tuesday remarked that an attempt was made to interfere in the independence of the apex court by enacting the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act 2023.

The observation from the top court judge came during the hearing of pleas challenging the SC law seeking to regulate the discretionary powers of the country’s chief judge.

Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa-led full-court bench consisting of all 15 judges of the Supreme Court including Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Yahya Afridi, Justice Aminuddin Khan, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, Justice Ayesha A. Malik, Justice Athar Minallah, Justice Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi, Justice Shahid Waheed and Justice Musarrat Hilali is hearing the case.

The hearing is being broadcast live on state-run PTV.

In yesterday’s hearing, CJP Isa had observed that parliament passed the law with “good intentions”.

The CJP had also hinted that they may try to wrap up the hearing by today. 

The hearing

Today’s hearing began with Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan’s (MQM-P) lawyer Faisal Siddiqi’s arguments.

The counsel stated that he would base his arguments on two cases — the Baz Kakar case and the top court’s verdict on the Supreme Court (Review of Judgements and Orders) Act 2023.

He also shared that he would respond to Justice Malik’s query on the use of word law in Article 191.

However, when the lawyer tried responding to Justice Malik’s point he was intervened by Justice Ahsan which led to an exchange of words with CJP Isa.

Justice Ahsan had stated that he wanted to ask a question but CJP intervened and asked the lawyer to continue with his arguments which led to a smirk from Siddiqi.

“There is nothing to laugh about on this matter, we have been listening to the case for four full days and multiple cases are lined up for a hearing,” remarked CJP Isa.

“Everyone on the bench wants to ask questions but let the lawyer complete his arguments.”

The lawyer then stated that when the SC rules were being formulated the definition of law was written, adding that there was no ambiguity about what the word law meant.

“You want to say that the definition of law is written in the Supreme Court Rules,” asked Justice Akhtar.

However, this irked CJP Isa, who then asked the bench members to stop the questions and let the counsel complete the arguments first.

“Just explain what law means in Article 191,” persisted Justice Akhtar.

At this point, CJP Isa told Justice Akhtar that if he has already made up his mind then he can write it in the judgment.

However, Justice Akhtar responded that as a member of the bench, it was his “right to ask questions”.

“Obviously, you can ask questions, but first let the lawyer complete the arguments,” said CJP Isa.

“Sorry but my problem is my questions,” Justice Akhtar responded and asked the lawyer to answer his queries.

Interjecting the proceedings, CJP Isa turned to Siddiqi and told him that he was ignoring his directions and asked him to respond to questions after completing his arguments.

Moving on, Justice Ahsan asked the counsel to explain the word law, to which, the lawyer stated that it meant an act of parliament.

However, Justice Ahsan wondered why the Constitution states that the judiciary, executive and legislature are separate. He added that the law in question interfered with the independence of the Supreme Court.

“Was this act an interference in the matters of the Supreme Court yes or no?” asked Justice Ahsan.

Siddiqi stated in the negative and said that parliament cannot make laws that bar the Supreme Court from making its own rules.

“Parliament can supervise the Supreme Court,” said the lawyer.

But Justice Ahsan was of the view that supervision meant “controlling” the Supreme Court. But the lawyer responded by saying even that supervisory role is limited.

‘SC jurisdiction can be extended’

Moving on, Justice Minallah observed that the SC’s jurisdiction can be extended in line with a law and added that the only limitation related to the top court’s jurisidction was mentioned in “entry 55”.

Justice Shah asked the lawyer to explain as to how “entries” allowed to increase scope of Article 184(3) of the Constitution.

Responding to the judges’ queries, lawyer Siddiqui cited Lahore High Court (LHC) verdict saying parliament can legislate on increasing jurisdiction of the top court.

To which, the CJP inquired whether the LHC verdict on top jurisdiction was challenged in the Supreme Court.

The lawyer responded saying that the Competition Commission Act was challenged in the court and the verdict was also announced on the matter.

“This matter is currently pending before the Supreme Court,” the counsel added.

However, Justice Malik said the act in question was related to a provincial law and not federal one.

The law

The law gave the power of taking sou motu notice to a three-member committee comprising senior judges including the chief justice. It further aimed to have transparent proceedings in the apex court and includes the right to appeal.

Regarding the constitution of benches, the Act stated that every cause, matter or appeal before the apex court would be heard and disposed of by a bench constituted by a committee comprising the CJP and the two senior-most judges.

It added that the decisions of the committee would be taken by a majority.

Regarding exercising the apex court’s original jurisdiction, the Act said that any matter invoking the use of Article 184(3) would first be placed before the committee.

On matters where the interpretation of the Constitution is required, the Act said the committee would compose a bench comprising no less than five apex court judges.

About appeals for any verdict by an apex court bench that exercised Article 184(3)‘s jurisdiction, the Act said that the appeal would lie within 30 days of the bench’s order to a larger SC bench. It added that the appeal would be fixed for hearing within a period not exceeding 14 days.

It added that this right of appeal would also extend retrospectively to those aggrieved persons against whom an order was made under Article 184(3) prior to the commencement of the SC (Practice and Procedure), Act 2023, on the condition that the appeal was filed within 30 days of the Act’s commencement.

The Act additionally said that a party would have the right to appoint its counsel of choice for filing a review application under Article 188 of the Constitution.

Furthermore, it states that an application pleading urgency or seeking interim relief, filed in a cause, appeal or matter, shall be fixed for hearing within 14 days from the date of its filing.

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