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Pakistan legislature passes controversial Supreme Court expansion in budget bill

[JURIST] The Pakistan National Assembly [official website] Sunday passed a bill [text, PDF] which not only approved the country's 2008-2009 budget, but also expanded the membership of the country's Supreme Court from 16 to 29 justices. Passage of the so-called Finance Bill was sharply criticized [Daily Times report] by several opposition groups and members of the country's lawyers' movement [JURIST news archive], who fear that the expansion of the Supreme Court undermines their demands for the reinstatement of judges dismissed after the November 2007 declaration of emergency law [text, PDF; JURIST report]. After the bill passed, Finance Minister Naveed Qamar of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) [party website] insinuated that its clause 18, providing for the expansion of the Court, was drafted and inserted by members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party websites]. PML-N members denied the allegation, saying that the party only supported the bill because expanding the Supreme Court would ensure that dismissed judges could be reinstated. Pakistan's Dawn has more. From Dubai, the Khaleej Times has additional coverage. The Daily Times has more local coverage.

The expansion of the Pakistan Supreme Court by the National Assembly is the latest development in the ongoing conflict between Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and opposition politicians and activists. Last week, members of the lawyers' movement concluded a "long march" protest [JURIST report] from Lahore to the capital, Islamabad, calling for the reinstatement of the dismissed judges. Two weeks ago, the PML-N called for Musharraf's impeachment [JURIST report], releasing a "charge sheet" outlining instances - including the dismissal of the country's superior court judges - where the president allegedly misused his authority. Earlier this month, the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association called constitutional amendments proposed by the PPP a stall tactic [JURIST report] to delay addressing the reinstatement of the ousted judges.

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