The National Assembly of Pakistan on Tuesday unanimously passed a private member’s bill aimed at condemning and punishing actions that breach the sovereignty and integrity of the Parliament in any form or manner.
The bill, moved by Chairman Standing Committee on Rules of Procedure and Privileges Rana Muhammad Qasim Noon, received widespread support from members of the House.
Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training Rana Tanveer Hussain commended the bill, stating that it would enhance the oversight role of the Parliament. The legislation is seen as a historic moment in the country’s parliamentary history and signifies a significant step toward ensuring the supremacy of Parliament as the “mother of all institutions”.
Although similar legislation exists at the provincial level, this bill fills a crucial gap by establishing provisions at the federal level. It aims to ensure the proper functioning of standing committees and strengthen parliamentary oversight.
Under the new law, a House can charge an individual with contempt if they breach the privileges of the Parliament. The NA Speaker or Chairman of the Senate can refer such matters to the Contempt Committee. If the Committee determines that a person should be charged with contempt, the Chairman of the Committee can move a motion in the House.
Within thirty days of the Act’s commencement, the Speaker will establish a Contempt Committee consisting of twenty-four members with equal representation from each house. Fourteen members will be nominated by the Leader of the House, while ten members will be nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. The Secretary of the National Assembly Secretariat will act as the Secretary of the Contempt Committee, and decisions will be made by a majority vote.
The bill emphasises that individuals charged with contempt will have the right to a fair trial, as guaranteed by the Constitution. However, they will not be permitted to appear before the Committee with legal representation. The Committee will have the power to conduct in-camera proceedings, and it will be granted the same enforcement powers as a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (V of 1908), to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents.
Travel and daily allowances will be provided to non-official witnesses summoned by the Committee, similar to allowances given to witnesses summoned by a civil court. If a person fails to appear before the Committee or evades service, the Chairman may issue a warrant for their appearance, with the approval of the Speaker or Chairman of the Senate.
The bill acknowledges that certain documents may be withheld by the administrative heads of government ministries, divisions, departments, or organisations if their disclosure would be detrimental to defense, security, external relations, or public interest.
Upon the Committee’s recommendations, a House will have the power to impose punishments prescribed under the Act. Individuals found guilty of contempt may face up to six months of simple imprisonment, a fine of up to ten million rupees, or both. The execution and enforcement of decisions will be carried out by a judicial magistrate, and appeals can be filed within thirty days of a House’s decision.
The bill also stipulates that proceedings before the Committee will be considered quasi-judicial, and any evidence or documents produced will not be admissible in court. Furthermore, individuals providing evidence or documents to the Committee will be exempt from civil, criminal, or departmental proceedings.
The amendments proposed by Minister for Commerce Syed Naveed Qamar allow the Committee to make rules under the Act’s provisions through official notification in the Gazette.
The bill’s statement of objects and reasons highlights the duty of citizens to remain loyal to the state and emphasises the importance of parliamentary oversight.
“The bill aims at condemning and awarding punishment for the actions that accounts for breach of the sovereignty and integrity of the prestigious House of the Majlis-e Shoora (Parliament) in any form or shade”.