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Pakistan governing party unveils constitutional reforms, warns lawyers

[JURIST] The leaders of Pakistan's governing Pakistan People's Party [party website] presented an anticipated [JURIST report] 62-point constitutional amendment package at a news conference Saturday, saying it would be presented to the country's parliament by the end of June. The package - an attempt at a political compromise - anticipates restoring all the superior court judges removed by President Pervez Musharraf under last November's declaration of emergency, provides new limits on judicial and presidential power, and enshrines constitutional protections for a more independent judiciary. According to Pakistan's Post newspaper, it includes the following specific provisions on the judiciary:

  • The retirement age of Supreme Court judges will be increased from 65 to 68 years, while the retirement age of High Court judges will be increased from 62 to 65 years.

  • The tenure of chief justice of Pakistan will be limited to three years.

  • Reinstated judges will take fresh oaths.

  • The Chief Justice of Pakistan's powers to take suo motu action will be curtailed.
No members of the lawyers' movement - which has been calling for full restoration of the judges and the removal of Musharraf - were involved in drafting the package, and relations between their representatives and the PPP leadership appear to be strained. Pakistan's Dawn newspaper quoted PPP chief Asif Ali Zardari as saying Friday: "Don’t coerce us and don’t tell us how to conduct politics. Let us take our own decisions." On Saturday, the Post reported that the PPP's central executive committee had urged Aitzaz Ahsan [JURIST news archive], the head of Pakistan's Supreme Court Bar Association but also a PPP stalwart, to come down on one side or another [Post report]. Ahsan has already said that limiting the tenure of the chief justice would be unacceptable and characterized the constitutional amendments package as merely "suggestions." Dawn has more. The Post has additional local coverage.

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