Constitution is supreme: Pak CJ

Islamabad: In a veiled warning, Pakistan Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on Saturday said that the Constitution, and not the Parliament, is supreme in matters involving the law.

The remarks by the assertive Chief Justice comes against the backdrop of a move by Pakistan`s government to introduce a bill aimed at curbing the Supreme Court`s powers.

Chaudhry, who is spearheading a drive to push the Pakistan People`s Party-led government to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, said the Constitution empowers the Superior Court to strike down any law that encroaches on the basic rights of citizens.

He cited a ruling by a judge in the United Kingdom, whose laws have influenced those of Pakistan, and said it had "been made clear that it is only, and only, the Constitution which is supreme".

Chaudhry made the remarks while addressing a ceremony organised in Karachi for newly enrolled advocates of the Supreme Court. "The Constitution guarantees that there shall be an independent judiciary. This comes not from the law laid down by judges but from the Constitution given by 180 million people," he said.

Article 2(a) of the Constitution ensures the independence of the judiciary will be secured by the judges, who have taken an oath to protect the Constitution, he added.

Chaudhry`s remarks came against the backdrop of the government`s plans to introduce a bill in parliament that is aimed at protecting top leaders from contempt of court and curbing the Supreme Court`s efforts to push Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf to reopen graft cases against Zardari.

The government plans to get the Contempt of Court Bill 2012 passed by the National Assembly and Senate before the apex court takes up the issue of reviving the corruption cases in Switzerland against Zardari on July 12.

A bench headed by the Chief Justice last month disqualified former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani after he was convicted of contempt for refusing to revive the cases against Zardari. The apex court has asked Prime Minister Ashraf to explain his position on reopening the cases at the next hearing on July 12.

Legal experts have said that Ashraf faces the possibility of the apex court acting against him if he refuses to reopen the cases against the President. During his speech, Chief Justice Chaudhry remarked that the apex court is fully empowered to strike down any law that is in conflict with the Constitution. He said that even in Britain, the doctrine of supremacy of Parliament was now seen to be out of place.

Quoting from the apex court`s order that disqualified Gilani, Chaudhry said it was time, after 65 years of Pakistan`s independence, that "we free ourselves from the shackles of obsequious intellectual servility to colonial paradigms and start adhering to our Constitution".

Chaudhry said the judiciary wants the supremacy of law and Constitution in the country. He emphasised that the Constitution has to be followed, preserved and protected at all costs. He further said that the law is equal for every citizen, irrespective of status and position.

Pakistan`s Chief Justice said that the contempt of court case against former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani proves that the law is applicable to every individual, irrespective of his position.

He added that action was taken against Gilani under the contempt of court law because the chief executive of the country defied court orders, and added that the implementation of court orders is the duty of the executive, which has been explained adequately in Article 190 of the Constitution.

Addressing the issue of immunity provided to the elected representatives, the chief justice said that if a person elected by the people violates the Constitution, then it is the duty of the courts to stop him.

He added that the Supreme Court`s order in the contempt of court case clarified that Gilani`s crime fell under the Article 63(1)(g) of the Constitution. "We should only examine our own Constitution to ensure that the will of the people prevails which is the very essence of a democratic system," the chief justice said.