Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi has returned the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023 unsigned, a move that has drawn the ire of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. The bill aims to limit the powers of the chief justice, including the formation of benches and suo motu.
However, the PTI has vehemently opposed the legislation, calling it an “attack on the judiciary”. President Alvi has sought advice from Imran Khan, the PTI chairman, on several key issues since the formation of the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s government in April 2021, which PM Shehbaz Sharif cited as evidence of Alvi being a PTI worker.
PM Sharif castigated Alvi in a hard-hitting tweet, calling his move “most unfortunate” and accusing him of following Imran Khan’s orders rather than fulfilling his constitutional duties. The prime minister further stated that Alvi had belittled his office by acting as a PTI worker, claiming that Alvi was more beholden to Khan than the Constitution or his office’s demands.
The bill was passed by both houses of parliament in March and sent to the president for assent amidst a political and constitutional crisis over the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa elections. Alvi’s refusal to sign the legislation has plunged the country into further turmoil, with the government expected to push it through a joint session of parliament.
In accordance with the Constitution’s Article 75, Alvi has returned the bill for reconsideration to parliament, stating that it prima facie exceeds the competence of the parliament and can be assailed as colorable legislation.
In his letter to PM Sharif, Alvi noted that the Supreme Court Rules 1980 had been made and in force, validated and adopted by the Constitution itself under enabling provisions such as Article 191. He added that any tinkering with these time-tested rules could be seen as interference with the court’s internal workings, autonomy, and independence.
The disagreement between Pakistan’s president and prime minister over the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023 underscores the tensions between the government and judiciary, which have persisted since the PDM came to power.
The PTI and the government have accused the judiciary of overstepping its bounds in several cases, leading to a constitutional crisis. The return of the bill by the president will likely deepen the crisis, but it remains to be seen whether it will result in a resolution that satisfies all parties.