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Pakistan’s president refuses to sign bill limiting top judge’s power

Amid rising political tensions in Pakistan, President Arif Alvi on Saturday refused to sign legislation recently approved by parliament that limits some key powers of the country’s top judge.

The President’s Office said in a statement that Alvi has returned the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023 to the parliament for reconsideration, stating that the bill prima facie is beyond the competence of the parliament and can be assailed as “colourable legislation.”

“The President said that he thought it fit and proper to return the Bill, in accordance with the Constitution, with the request for reconsideration in order to meet the scrutiny about its validity (if assailed in the Court of Law),” said the statement.

The president viewed that parliament can make laws governing the jurisdiction and powers of all courts except the Supreme Court of Pakistan, it added.

He referred to the constitution as the “father of laws,” saying its provisions cannot be amended by ordinary law.

Last week, parliament passed the bill, despite objections from the main opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and the religiopolitical Jamaat-e-Islami, which called it “unconstitutional.”

The legislation’s most notable provision is the removal of the chief justice’s authority to take a suo motu notice, a legal term used in South Asian countries to refer to actions taken by courts on their own initiative without a request from the parties concerned.

Suo motu notices issued by chief justices have long been a source of contention between the top judiciary and governments, with several bar councils also opposing the controversial power.

The bill also deprives the chief justice of the authority to constitute the Supreme Court benches.

The bill also allows three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, former Premier Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, and several other parliamentarians who have been disqualified by the Supreme Court under suo motu action to appeal their disqualification within 30 days of the law’s enactment.

The bill now needs to be placed before a joint session of parliament, the National Assembly, and the Senate, after being sent back by the president.

If both houses approve it, it becomes law. However, anyone can challenge it in the Supreme Court.

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