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Pakistan: Bills Introduced on Increased Representation of Women in the Supreme Court

(May 26, 2016) On May 16, 2016, a member of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and former law minister, Babar Awan, introduced a private member’s bill in the Senate, the upper house of Pakistan’s federal legislature, that would amend the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1997, to provide greater “representation of women” in Pakistan’s Supreme Court.  (Bill Seeking Women Representation in Top Judiciary Introduced, DAWN (May 17, 2016).)  Section 2 of the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1997 currently reads, “[t]he number of Judges of the Supreme Courts [sic] of Pakistan other than the Chief Justice shall be sixteen.”  (Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1997, § 2, GAZETTE OF PAKISTAN (Nov. 6, 1997) available at National Assembly of Pakistan website.)

The amending legislation would add the following proviso to the end of section 2:

… Provided that there shall be at least one-third female Judges, one each from four provinces, Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) and Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA). (Supreme Court (Number of Judges) (Amendment) Act, 2016, § 2, Senate of Pakistan website.)

Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani placed the bill before the Senate for a vote and after it passed referred the bill to the relevant committee.  (Bill Seeking Women Representation in Top Judiciary Introduced, supra.)

A similar bill, introduced in mid-April in the National Assembly (the lower house of Pakistan’s legislature), would amend section 2 of the 1997 Act to read: “[p]rovided that one fourth of the total number of judges of the Supreme Court shall be women.”  (Supreme Court (Number of Judges) (Amendment) Act, 2016, § 2, National Assembly of Pakistan website.)  However, the bill appears to have been rejected by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice.  (Naveed Butt, Public Prosecutors: NA Passes Bill Banning Private Practice, BUSINESS RECORDER (May 3, 2016).)

Views on the Bills

The PPP senator who moved the Senate bill is reported to have said that “women had been playing their role in education, health, politics, armed forces and even in the lower judiciary, but he regretted that in the 69-year history of the country, not a single woman had become a judge of the Supreme Court.”  (Bill Seeking Women Representation in Top Judiciary Introduced, supra.)

However, the Senate bill is opposed by the current Law Minister, Zahid Hamid, who was reported in the news as saying, “[t]he law does not bar them (women).  If a woman wants to become a judge, why not … it is crystal clear that it is lack of interest on the part of women, so we don’t feel the need for this bill.”  (Passes Bill to Enhance Number of Women Judges in SC, News INTERNATIONAL (May 17, 2016).)  The Law Minister has also expressed opposition to the National Assembly legislation.  He reportedly stated, “the procedure for the appointment of an SC judge was laid out exhaustively in the Constitution.  …  if a woman judge met the criteria, she would definitely be appointed to the apex court.”  (New Bill Seeks Women Judges in Supreme Court, DAWN (updated Apr. 13, 2016).)