LAHORE: Speaking in the session on ‘The Need for Constitutional Courts’ at Asma Jahangir Conference 2022, senior parliamentarians and constitutional experts emphasised immediate judicial reforms to make the judiciary more accountable in Pakistan.
Saroop Ijaz, senior counsel for the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, moderated the session titled ‘The Need for Constitutional Courts’ at the Asma Jahangir Conference 2022 in Lahore. Senator Raza Rabbani, a former chairman of the Senate and also a former federal law minister, was the keynote speaker of the session. Antonio-Martín Porras Gómez, an expert in constitutional law at La Universidad de Barcelona, Rashid A Rizvi, former Justice of the Sindh High Court, and Dr Sadaf Aziz,
Dean and Associate Professor of Shaikh Ahmad Hassan School of Law at LUMS spoke about constitutional courts in the session.
In his keynote speech, Raza Rabbani said a constitutional court has the power to review matters pertaining to the constitution and its concept originated in Austria and later spread to other European countries and other countries in the world. “More importantly, a constitutional court has the powers to review constitutional questions including laws which have not been passed yet by parliament,” he explained.
Powers exercised by such courts include constitutional drafting jurisdiction, judicial review of legislation, jurisdiction over officials and agencies controlling the executive, and jurisdiction over political parties controlling elections. He revealed that the Charter of Democracy envisioned the establishment of a constitutional court in Pakistan but the idea was dropped at the time of the 18th Constitutional Amendment because the political leadership thought it would add another layer of the judiciary in presence of the Supreme Court and Federal Shariat Court.
Rashid A Rizvi, former Justice of the Sindh High Court, said there were no regulatory provisions regarding the use of suo motu by the apex court judiciary. He said the political leadership had missed the opportunity to limit the Supreme Court’s suo motu powers at the time of the 18th Constitutional Amendment. “This has resulted in the judiciary becoming an unchained power in the country,” he said.
Dr Sadaf Aziz, Dean and Associate Professor of Shaikh Ahmad Hassan School of Law at LUMS urged for the establishment of a constitutional court in Pakistan as there were conflicting judgments relating to federal and provincial legislation.
Antonio-Martín Porras Gómez, an expert in constitutional law at La Universidad de Barcelona, said that a constitutional court is needed to limit judicial activism by judges. He said a constitutional court could prevent institutional gridlock in a country, adding such courts could tackle the problem of judicial activism.
In the session, the panellists agreed that urgent and immediate judicial reforms are needed to make the judiciary more accountable. The speakers said the process of judicial appointments needs to be changed to make it more democratic, inclusive and transparent. They further held that the judiciary needs to set up rules for exercising its suo motu jurisdiction and use it only in limited, clearly defined circumstances.