This week as the Pakistani population was busy following the daily media hype over the Panamagate issue in the Supreme Court, Nawaz team was busy elsewhere. Government was in a rush to roll through the twenty-fourth amendment Bill in the National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice on Monday. Surprisingly, the news was given more coverage in Indian papers than by most major newspapers in Pakistan.
On the face of it, 24th Amendment look very benign. It gives ‘aggrieved parties’ right of appeal in suo motu notices taken by the Supreme Court. But the government is facing criticism that they are trying to pass it at a time when the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members are in the Supreme Court defending themselves in the Panama Leaks case.
the government in this case is using it to help Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in case of conviction in the Panama case.
PMLN had no qualms about shooting down a similar bill when they had been in the opposition and the Supreme Court had removed Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani because of corruption and contempt of court charges. At the time Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarian (PPPP) MNA Ayaz Soomro had submitted a similar bill 2015, which was not approved by the parliament.
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The PPPP, even now, have said that they will support the bill, but both PPP and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), have opposed the current timing of the Bill. MNA Naveed Qamar of the PPPP has said, “his party was not against the amendment but the timing of it.”
It is clear that the government in this case is using it to help the prime minister, in case of what seems an unlikely conviction, in the Panama case in the Supreme Court.
All parties agree that a prime minister should have such a right to appeal against the suo moto notice of the Supreme Court. This is important to help sustain the balance of power among the three branches of the state, however, they are not happy with the hastily produced legislation where it sets a precarious precedent that the ruling party legislates laws for saving itself.
Zahid Hamid, Federal Minister for Law and Justice, pushed aside the opposition criticism and claimed the timing of the amendment had nothing to do with the Panama case. He stated that this allowed for provision of appeal against an order of the Supreme Court in exercise of its original jurisdiction under clause (3) of Article 184 of the Constitution.
This proposed amendment provided for an appeal within thirty days of an order of the Supreme Court to be heard by a bench larger than the one which had passed the order under appeal. The bill was approved as only one member of the committee rejected it.