Aversion to Full Court

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THE ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Monday night announced boycott of the hearing of a petition, filed against Punjab Deputy Speaker’s ruling on voting for election of the Chief Minister, following rejection of their demand for constitution of the Full Court Bench of the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Addressing a press conference along with leaders of coalition partners of the government, Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, said they had decided that they would not appear before the three-member Bench and boycott hearing of the case.

He said the coalition government lawyers gave the suggestion to the three-member Bench of the SC, as per the law and the Constitution, but unfortunately the Bench showed partiality and rejected the demand of the government.

The Apex Court has its own reasons for its aversion to the formation of the Full Court and its preference for a three-member Bench to hear certain cases.

Maintaining that the court needs more legal clarification to form a Full Court bench to issue a verdict on the case, the Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial said the matter was of urgent nature and it could not be delayed, holding that this bench would hear the case.

The Court has also been saying that it would not be appropriate to engage all the judges for a single case when there was a huge backlog of cases, meaning that other litigants cannot be allowed to suffer because of priority given to one particular case.

However, given the ground realities, heavens would not have fallen if the demand for a Full Court was accepted as rejection of the demand has more serious consequences not just for the overall reputation and credibility of the process of dispensation of justice but also in terms of triggering a greater and deeper political crisis.

No one can dispute the fact that it is sole prerogative of the Chief Justice to form a Bench and it is also, to some extent, justifiably maintained that this power cannot be compromised under pressure as it would be a bad precedent.

But leaders of the coalition government claim that why a three-member bench of the same judges is formed every time when a case involving a political row between PTI and other parties is brought before the Apex Court.

They rightly maintain that there are also other judges but they are completely ignored in the formation of benches for sensitive cases allegedly to deny justice to them.

As for the argument regarding backlog of cases, it must be appreciated that the case under discussion was not an ordinary one as it has legal, constitutional, political and economic implications and linkages.

Therefore, there was no harm if the case was heard by a Full Bench when a demand for the purpose was made by all parties forming the coalition government as well as representatives of the legal community including the Supreme Court Bar Association, Pakistan Bar Council and former office holders of these associations.

The Full Court should have been the priority as it would have settled the matter once for all and the coalition partners had announced they would accept the verdict of the Full Court.

The aversion to Full Court is not understandable, especially when the three-member Bench assigned with the case has become controversial.

There are countless precedents where members of the benches voluntarily separated themselves from those benches when questions were raised about the impartiality of those judges.

As things stand today, the insistence on the particular three-member bench is likely to trigger a chain reaction as the coalition government has unanimously rejected the decision of the Supreme Court in this regard, threatening that they will use other options to safeguard their interests.

There is also an unfortunate impression that judicial activism is threatening the independence and sovereignty of Parliament with calls for legislation to restrict powers of the judiciary.

PDM Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has already asserted that a suggestion would be given to the government, parliament and the prime minister for legislation so that the nation could have trust in decisions of the judiciary which would also result in economic stability in the country.

Such actions and reactions could translate into confrontation between the judiciary and Parliament which would not be in the interest of the country.

 

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