Reconsidering Suo Motu.


Byline: Usman Ghani

The dichotomy between requirements of law and ideals of justice is old. The struggle between these two philosophies was exhibited in the trial of Catiline, a Roman aristocrat. Cicero, arguably the most famous lawyer of Roman era, uncovered a plot by Catiline that called for assassination of several elected officials and the burning of the city itself. Catiline was arrested and Cicero built up a case for his execution without a trial. Cicero, motivated by his previous enmity with Catiline, argued vociferously that Catiline has committed a crime against Rome and it was the requirement of justice that he should be executed as soon as possible. Ironically, Julius Caesar argued that Catiline had the right to a fair trial and he should not be condemned without it.

Roman Senate was about to agree with Caesar when Marcus Porcius Cato, known as Cato the Younger, rose to speak. He made a brilliant speech and was able to swing the opinion of the Senate in Cicero's favour. Catiline and other conspirators were executed without a trial in the name of swift justice.

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Article 184 (3) of the Constitution of Pakistan, gives Supreme Court a very broad power, generally known as suo motu power, to intervene in the matters of public importance with reference to enforcement of fundamental rights. The wording of the aforementioned Article gives unbridled power to Supreme Court with almost no limitation or exception.

Through most of the judicial history of Pakistan, the power of suo motu was used in rarest of the circumstances. Two famous examples where this power was used were that of Darshan Masih case and Shehla Zia case. In Darshan Masih case, Supreme Court took cognizance of the telegram received by it and need for legislation defining the expression 'forced labour' was pointed out. The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1992 was enacted in the wake of this decision. Similarly, in Shehla Zia case, the right to life was liberally interpreted thus expanding the scope of this fundamental right of utmost importance.

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However, after the lawyers' movement, judicial activism became more egregious and audacious. The balance of trichotomy of powers was heavily disturbed and judiciary began to intervene within the sphere of Executive. Political leadership was given no breathing space and challenged and humiliated on all turfs. Even two...

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