April 2nd, 2021
By Ahmed Saeed
The Pakistan and Punjab councils have both reacted strongly against the promulgation of an ordinance by the Punjab government, that seeks to amend the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) 1908.
In reaction to this action by the Punjab government, the lawyers’ bodies have threatened to call a province-wide strike if the government fails to address and resolve their grievances.
The vice-chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council, Khushdil Khan said that this government had opened a ‘factory of ordinances’ and that they try to enact new laws through ordinances, which is not a constitutional way of lawmaking.
“Legislation through ordinance shows the weakness of an elected government, and it demonstrates that the government does not have either trust or control over its members,” he said.
Likewise, the Punjab Bar Council also filed a writ petition in the Lahore High Court (LHC) challenging the ordinance and prayed to the court to strike down the ordinance, as it was issued without meeting the constitutional preconditions, and without any consultation with relevant stakeholders.
The court after the preliminary hearing admitted, the petition and issued notice to the provincial government.
The bone of contention
The Ordinance that is called the Code of Civil Procedure (Punjab Amendment) Ordinance 2021, sought to amend 17 sections of the CPC but the main bone of contention is the amendment in Section 96 of the Code.
The amended Section 96 has ended the District and Session courts’ authority to listen to the first appeal against a civil court’s judgment. Now, the appeals in all civil matters can only be filed in the high court.
Earlier, the session courts were authorised to hear the appeals against the civil court verdict.
The lawyers believe that this change will not only burden the high court but also the litigants have also to bear extra financial burden to file an appeal in high court even in meager issues.
The ordinance also stated that all civil suits involving matters of below 50 million Rupees will be filed in the court of a civil judge while the suits of more than 50 million Rupees will be filed in the court of a district judge.
A special law
Barrister Muhammad Ahmed Qayyum, who is a member of the Punjab Bar Council and the counsel in a writ petition challenging the ordinance said that the CPC is a special law as it is managed jointly by both the executive and the judiciary.
“The executive deals with the sections of the CPC and the judiciary deals with a schedule of the code,” Qayyum explained.
He further said that the government did not consult the relevant stakeholders including the rule-making committee of the LHC before promulgating the ordinance.
An overburdened high court
Qayyum and other lawyers believed that after these amendments the number of pending cases will be increased many folds and the litigants will have to wait for a long time to get their cases adjudicated.
According to the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (LJCP), there were 188,176 cases were pending before the LHC by 31 December 2021.
There are currently 38 judges performing their duties in the LHC against the sanctioned strength of 60 judges. It is pertinent to mention here that no judge has been appointed to the high court since 2018
“Around four or five years back, the high court sent the appeals in civil cases to the session court to lessen their burden but after this ordinance, the government again put that burden on the LHC,” Qayyum said.
Voicepk.net contacted the public relations officer of the law ministry Punjab to get the government’s version on the objections raised by lawyers. But, despite many reminders, the PRO did not respond.
The ordinance issued by the Punjab government is almost similar to one promulgated by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government in 2019 to amend the CPC. However, the KP government was forced to repeal the ordinance due to continuous strikes by the KP lawyers.