PDM govt breezes past ‘judicial overreach’

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ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial’s tenure has been marked by a different approach compared to his predecessors, apparently opting for a more measured stance, especially avoiding confrontations with the PDM-led government.

Unlike former chief justices, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and Mian Saqib Nisar who took an active role in governance by exercising suo motu jurisdiction, CJ Bandial refrained from giving the PDM-led government a tough time.

The PML-N and PPP had previously experienced the ramifications of what many critics perceive as judicial overreach, which had led to tension between the judiciary, executive, and parliament. However, it was noticed that CJP Bandial took a “softer” stance, even going so far as to facilitate the government by endorsing an out-of-court settlement on the Reko Diq project.

Observers discern this shift in the chief justice’s approach to handling of the legislation regarding the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 2000. A three-judge special bench led by the chief justice chose not to suspend the legislation, which would have benefitted several PDM leaders facing trials in NAB cases.

While it seemed that the chief justice might take a tougher stance against the PDM government when he took a suo motu notice of alleged government interference in graft cases against top officials, the matter was adjourned indefinitely after just four hearings.

This was followed by the acquittal of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his sons in the graft cases.Role in no-trust against PTI chiefThe chief justice also earned PTI’s severe criticism when also played a key role in the completion of the process of no-confidence against former prime minister Imran Khan.

A special bench led by Chief Justice Bandial took up the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) petition concerning the completion of the no-confidence process under Article 95 of the Constitution. The same bench ultimately set aside the ruling of former deputy speaker of the National Assembly Qasim Suri.

However, this move faced criticism from supporters of the PTI, who claimed that the courts were opened at night to complete the process under Article 95 of the Constitution.

Another controversial judgement during CJP Bandial’s tenure was the decision on the presidential reference, which held that votes of defecting lawmakers would not be counted under Article 63 A of the Constitution.

The decision was criticised for effectively rewriting the Constitution, with some arguing that it contributed to the toppling of the PML-N’s Punjab government. The judgement also led to a clash between the executive and CJP Bandial’s court.

Some lawyers believe that this opinion was a CJP’s ‘balancing act’. CJP Bandial had ensured the chief minister’s elections after by-elections of the Punjab Assembly.

The tension between the executive, parliament, and CJP Bandial’s judiciary reached its peak when the federal government representatives refused to endorse CJP Bandial’s nominations for Supreme Court judges in a Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP) meeting.

The ruling parties expressed mistrust over Chief Justice Bandial and his perceived “like-minded judges,” requesting a full court to hear petitions against the ruling of Deputy Speaker Punjab Assembly Dost Mazari, which discarded the votes of ten MPAs from the PML-Q.

The same bench set aside Mazari’s ruling and declared Chaudhry Pervez Elahi as the new CM Punjab, leading to further conflict between the executive and CJP Bandial’s court.

In response to the judgment, the federal government representatives, including the law minister and the attorney general for Pakistan, initially did not endorse the CJP’s nominations for SC judges during the JCP meeting, causing visible disappointment from the CJ.

Later one of the representatives had revealed that they had supported CJP’s nominations on the advice of then-army chief General Bajwa.

Chief Justice Bandial’s court also made headlines when they ordered the Punjab police to register an FIR in accordance with the law following Imran Khan’s insistence on including senior military officers in an FIR regarding the Wazirabad incident attack on him. The following day, the FIR was registered against Imran Khan’s version of events.

While some members of the PDM leadership expressed their displeasure with Chief Justice Bandial for not initiating contempt proceedings against Imran Khan over the violation of the May 25, 2022 order, which restricted

PTI workers from holding a rally at D Chowk in Islamabad, others laud the Chief Justice’s impartiality.

Tensions between the executive, parliament, and Chief Justice Bandial’s court further escalated when the court took notice of the delay in holding elections for two provincial assemblies.

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