Suo motu clipped

The legislation to take out the discretionary powers will surely be contested

March 30, 2023


The law to curtail the powers of the chief justice in invoking suo motu proceedings has come at a wrong time. While the apex court is seized with a litigation of public importance pertaining to the holding of elections in two provinces, and that too under suo motu jurisdiction of Article 184(3) of the Constitution, the legislation to take out the discretionary powers will surely be contested. It is widely being seen as a retribution measure by the government as it is on the other side of the divide.

Though there are umpteen arguments to slash the suo motu powers in the office of the chief justice, and to bestow them with a panel of senior judges, and likewise the unilateral privilege of constituting the benches, the legislation to amend them should have been put off till the disposition of the current hearing. Precisely, it makes it a double-edged sword fight between the judiciary and the parliament, quite unacceptable at a moment when political instability is ripe and the society is divisive to the core.

The cabinet’s haste to approve the draft bill pertaining to curtailment of discretionary powers in the office of the CJP, and its subsequent passage in the lower house has upped the ante. It goes without saying that the exercise of original jurisdiction by the apex court under Article 184(3) had, of late, become a bone of contention, but what necessitated at this moment was the wisdom to go slow and kick-start a debate on its merits and demerits, rather than opting for a surgical operation. It is not sure what composition of the society will back the bill, and it is quite likely that it will trigger a debate among the lawyers’ fraternity who see it as a measure to corner the judiciary.

The bill has come as a political narrative of the coalition government, and will surely invite slur from the opposition. But what ails more is the phenomenon that it splits the judiciary, and the note of dissent from two honourable judges has shown the way. That should not have been the case in all rationality. It will long be seen as an attempt to prevail over the courts.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 30th, 2023.

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