In a significant development, the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act 2023, which addresses the powers of the Chief Justice. The verdict, delivered with a 10-5 majority by the full court consisting of all 15 judges of the apex court, comes after five extensive hearings on petitions challenging the law.
Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa, reading the reserved verdict, announced that the SC Practice and Procedure Act 2023 is considered in accordance with the Constitution, with 10 judges in favor and 5 judges, including Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, Justice Ayesha A. Malik, and Justice Shahid Waheed, dissenting. Sub-section 1 of Section 5 of the Act, which pertains to the right of appeal prospectively, was also declared in accordance with the Constitution with a 9-6 majority, despite the dissent of the previously mentioned judges.
However, sub-section 2 of Section 5, which deals with the right of appeal retrospectively, was declared ultra vires the Constitution with an 8-7 majority, with CJP Isa, Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Amin-ud-Din Khan, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, Justice Athar Minallah, and Justice Musarrat Hilali in disagreement.
The Practice and Procedure Act, passed by Parliament in April, alters the process for taking up cases suo motu, giving a three-member bench, including the CJP and the two senior-most judges, the authority to make this decision, whereas previously, it was solely the CJP’s prerogative. It also expands the Supreme Court’s review jurisdiction by allowing appeals within 30 days of judgments in suo motu cases.
The law had been criticized by petitioners as an attempt by the government to limit the Chief Justice’s powers. The Supreme Court had previously barred the government from implementing the law until the petitions were decided.
Today’s judgment comes after five proceedings, and it was evident that there was some disagreement among the judges over the court’s operation during these hearings.
In summary, the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Practice and Procedure Act 2023, with certain provisions receiving mixed support from the judges, while others were declared unconstitutional. The law will be effective from its enactment date, April 21, 2023, allowing for the review of Supreme Court verdicts issued after that date under Article 184(3).