ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Peoples Party will be lending a helping hand to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in passing an amendment to the Constitution which would provide the Sharif family a legal option to go for a review in case an adverse verdict is delivered in the Panama leaks case.
“It has been brought due to political expediency, but we would still support it since it was our longstanding demand,” Senator Farhatullah Babar told The Express Tribune.
Imran Khan’s PTI is opposing the move, but his party’s opposition may not block it given the overwhelming majority the PML-N enjoys in the National Assembly and the decisive support the ruling party has managed to gain from the PPP. The federal government had introduced the Constitution (24th Amendment) Bill-2016 in the National Assembly on November 18, proposing a right to appeal against an order of the Supreme Court passed in suo motu cases.
Currently, the only remedy available to aggrieved persons under this jurisdiction of the apex court is a review petition, and that, too, is heard by the same bench that had earlier passed the order.
The bill suggests adding two new clauses – 184(4) and 184(5) – to Article 184 (Original jurisdiction of Supreme Court) of the Constitution. A larger bench of the Supreme Court is currently hearing the Panamagate case under the said jurisdiction, i.e., Article 184.
“One thing is clear: that the government’s motive behind the move is not based on principles, but political in nature,” Babar observed, adding, “The PPP was well aware of it.” The PPP senator said the timing of introducing such a crucial constitutional amendment was not appropriate, and it had been brought to parliament at a time when the Supreme Court was hearing a case against the Sharif family under the same jurisdiction.
“Despite our reservations – primarily due to the timing of this amendment – the PPP will support it,” Babar said.
The proposed Clause 184(4) says, “Any person aggrieved by an order passed by the Supreme Court under Clause 3 may, within 30 days of the passing of such order, prefer an appeal to the Supreme Court.”
While, the proposed Clause 184(5) suggests, “An appeal preferred under [proposed] Clause (4) shall be heard by a bench larger than the bench which had passed the order under appeal.”
The government will be requiring a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly to get the bill passed from the lower house of parliament.
Apparently, following its traditional politics – opposition for the sake of opposition – the PTI on Thursday said the amendment was aimed at “de-shaping the constitution in a bid to save an individual [the prime minister]”, saying the party would not support the amendment introduced by the government in a controversial manner.
Talking to The Express Tribune, PTI’s legal wizard Hamid Khan said he sees no harm in the said amendment, but the timing of its introduction was controversial and reflects the government’s mala fide intent.
“I personally endorse that there must be an appellant forum in cases decided under original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court,” Khan said, adding by introducing the bill, the government had signalled the apex court that it [government] would have another option available in case they [the SC] decide the Panamagate case against the Sharif family.
Khan recalled that Nawaz Sharif has an old habit of using such tactics to pressurise the Supreme Court by bringing favourable amendments. He said that when the court of Syed Sajjad Ali Shah had initiated contempt proceeding against the incumbent prime minister in 1998, the then contempt law was amended by the PML-N, which allowed the accused to challenge the charge sheet through filing an intra-court appeal.
“They [PML-N] introduce amendments to the constitution not on the basis of principle, but to safeguard their interests,” Hamid observed, adding when the PPP during its last regime had tried to get a similar amendment passed from parliament, the PML-N deliberately opposed it and now when they [PML-N] were under the scanner they had introduced it.
Hamid said the PTI’s opposition would not matter due to the PML-N’s numerical strength in parliament.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2016.