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Monday, October 2, 2023
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EditorialA landmark decision

A landmark decision

As was expected, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has unequivocally upheld the sanctity of the nation’s constitutional framework by striking down the controversial Supreme Court (Review of Judgments and Orders) Act 2023. This verdict is a resounding testament to the Court’s commitment to maintaining the balance of power, preserving the fundamental principles enshrined in the Constitution, and safeguarding the autonomy of the judicial branch. The three-member bench, led by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Munib Akhtar, and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, delivered a verdict that resonates deeply with the very essence of Pakistan’s democratic foundation. This verdict is not merely a legal decision; it is a beacon of constitutional wisdom that resonates far beyond the courtroom.

The Act, purportedly aimed at enhancing the Supreme Court’s ability to review judgments and orders, as claimed by the outgoing government, was deemed unconstitutional for its egregious overreach. The Court’s verdict rightly identifies that the Act overstepped its bounds, infringing upon the separation of powers, which is a cornerstone of a functional democracy. The expansion of the court’s jurisdiction under the Act was a flagrant violation of the Constitution’s stipulations, which can only be altered through a constitutionally mandated amendment process.

The Supreme Court’s verdict, as outlined in the detailed judgment, dissects the legal basis of the Act and its consequences. The Court’s unanimous stance on the matter highlights the unity of purpose among the bench members in upholding the Constitution’s integrity. By unequivocally stating that ordinary legislation cannot tamper with the core powers and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, the bench reasserts the foundational principles upon which the country was built.

Justice Munib Akhtar’s additional note is a masterful exposition on the history of review and appellate jurisdictions, dating back to the Government of India Act 1935. His observation that “a review is not an appeal” echoes the fundamental principle that the scope of review and appellate processes are distinct and cannot be conflated without endangering the integrity of the judicial process.

Moreover, the court’s wisdom in recognizing the potential encroachment on the independence of the judiciary is commendable. The Act’s provisions granting the petitioner the choice of counsel and the subsequent analysis by Justice Akhtar underscore the importance of maintaining the ethical balance between litigants and the judicial process. This astute scrutiny reflects the Court’s unwavering dedication to upholding the principles of justice, fairness, and impartiality.

As a result of this verdict, the broader implications for the democratic fabric of Pakistan are profound. The Supreme Court’s decision not only reaffirms the supremacy of the Constitution but also reiterates that any attempt to undermine the sanctity of the judicial branch will be met with swift and resolute action. By nullifying the Act, the Supreme Court has erected a formidable bulwark against any future endeavors to subvert the Constitution and erode the tenets of democracy.

Former law minister Azam Nazeer Tarar’s reservations about the verdict are short-sighted and overlook the larger constitutional context. The Court’s verdict does not encroach on parliamentary autonomy; instead, it safeguards the separation of powers and maintains the delicate balance that is the bedrock of democracy. The verdict will be remembered as a defining moment in Pakistan’s legal history, a moment when the highest court stood firm against overreach and safeguarded the Constitution’s principles. It is a clarion call for upholding the rule of law and preserving the democratic ideals that guide the nation’s destiny.

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