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Constitution is higher than parliament: CJ

ISLAMABAD: In what is being seen as a reaction to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi`s statement in the National Assembly, Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar reiterated on Tuesday that parliament was a supreme institution but the Constitution enjoyed pre-eminence over it.

`We are reiterating in the presence of eminent journalists that parliament is a supreme body but the Constitution is even higher than this institution,` the chief justice observed during the hearing of the media commission case on a petition Kled by anchorperson Hamid Mir.

On Monday, the prime minister, while criticising judicial activism, had called for an ultimate debate to determine who had the final say in legislation.

Without alluding to any statement, the chief justice observed that the authority of the Supreme Court had been defined in the Constitution and as such the court never transgressed from its authority because doing so would amount to violatingthe duty and oath the judges had taken under the Constitution.

At the same time in an unambiguous message, the chief justice made it clear that the judiciary never interfered in any executive act or a legislative instrument unless it went outside the scope of the law or militated against the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution or was in clear contravention of any express provisions of the Constitution.

In real sense, he said, the Supreme Court was such asensitive institution that it gave rise to misunderstanding, misgivings or wrong perception among the institutions when the media reported some observations of the judges out of context or misreported something.

`We cannot ask parliament to make a particular law, but the court can examine the same,` the chief justice emphasised, adding that he was neither bound to give any explanation to any statement nor should these observations be construed as a weakness on the part of the judiciary.

`We highly respect the leadership of the country, but questions do arise when we interact or hear cases as to the qualification regarding appointments. Should it be misconstrued as if we are showing our disrespect when we ask questions about the election of a party head of a political party,` Justice Nisar wondered.

At this, Hamid Mir suggested to the chief justice not to pay heed to the statements of those who wanted to make an issue out of this.

The chief justice observed that the court was not a weak institution and that the observations should not at all be considered a sign of weakness or explanation. The court, he said, would fully employ and exercise the authority and the power Allah Almighty had bestowed upon it under the Constitution.

About implementation of the recommendations of a two-man media commission consisting of retired Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid and former senator Javed Jabbar, the Supreme Court gave Information Secretary Sardar Ahmed Nawaz Sukhera 10 days to submit the government`s fresh stance on the matter after seeking instructions from the prime minister and the information ministry.

The secretary is required to inform the court whether the government wants to implement the recommendations of the commission on the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) or takes a different view i.e. making the regulator totally independent through appointments of professional and independent chairman and members of the authority.

During the hearing, Mr Sukhera explained that the federal government had only once during the past five years interfered in the working of Pemra when it directed the regulator to put television channels off air for a day [Nov 25, 2017] during the 20-day Faizabad sit-in by some religious groups. But the decision was later withdrawn and the media houses were asked not to telecast the sit-in when law enforcement agencies were about to launch an operation against the protesters, he said.

At this, the chief justice observed that he did not think putting the channels off air was a prudent decision and recalled how he was about to pass an order for restoration of the TV channels then, but his registrar had called the authority concerned and was told that the channels would be opened at two o`clock in the morning of that day.

Justice Umar Ata Bandial observed that institutions would become independent if independent and qualified persons were appointed chairmen and members. It was to be seen how many of the 12 members of the authority were minions and how many of them were professionals, he said, adding that many regulatory authorities had become dormant because their top posts had been lying vacant for a long time.

The chief justice regretted that many posts had been wrongly filled and recalled that in one case a person with no judicial experience had been appointed to a position which was a quasi-judicial post.

The Supreme Court detached a case relating to lack of salaries or outstanding salaries of journalists against different media houses and decided to take up the case separately.

The court also regretted that no media houses or private television channels had provided information or particulars about salary of media workers, but issued notices to certain newspapers and television channels forhavingbacklog ofsalaries.