ISLAMABAD: With at least two judges contracting the novel coronavirus, the Supreme Court (SC) recently reminded the federal government to take the health emergency seriously and come up with uniform national legislation.
“This becomes important more so when the passing of the executive orders to deal with the pandemic has trampled and affected the fundamental rights of people,” said an order dictated by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed.
“We are also feeling the heat in this court as two judges have tested positive,” observed the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) while heading the SC bench that had taken up a suo moto notice of the prevention of coronavirus.
Instead of the five-judge bench, the SC bench hearing the case on Monday comprised only four judges, who were seated at some distance from each other.
Legislation at national level About the coronavirus situation in the country, CJP Ahmed observed: “Difficulty is this that no law has been passed even though we have been emphasising for adopting the bill at the national level which should apply to the entire country.
Altering its May 15 direction that shops may not be closed on Saturdays and Sundays owning to the Eid festival, the four-judge SC bench in its fresh direction allowed the government to make policies by its strategies to meet the Covid-19 threat.
Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan observed, “I don’t think that any province will have any problem with agreeing with a uniform law.” He said all four provincial governments could sit and come out with the law.
He said it was a national emergency as the fatalities were on the rise with more than 100,000 people being affected by the disease.
Justice Ahsan suggested to the federal government to take the lead as the deadly virus never distinguished between the people.
The observations came when Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan said the federal government was ‘making all-out efforts to contain` the spread of the virus, but requested the apex court to emphasize the enforcement of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in its order as it would then carry more weight.
The CJP observed that Covid-19 was a national problem and should be taken at the national level. “Why the legislatures cannot function when other institutions are functioning,” Justice Ahmed remarked while recalling how China, followed by other countries, immediately made the law when the virus had started spreading.
“You want to stop all activity through the executive order. [It] is not permissible since it infringes upon the fundamental rights of the people,” the chief justice declared, observing that the government could not just implement SOPs by holding press conferences.
“The executive orders and the legislative functions were completely different,” the chief justice reminded the attorney general.
Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Naqvi wondered why the government could not sit with open arms and find a solution to the current issue through proper legislation.
“Time is the essence and the federal government does not have much time to deal with the situation,” Justice Ahsan highlighted.
The attorney general assured the court that he would advise the government for adopting a uniform national policy.
The chief justice recalled how the Supreme Court in its April 7 order had highlighted the importance of national-level legislation, but nothing in this regard had been done till date. Therefore, he said, the federal government should take this matter seriously and ensure law at the national level.
The court was not happy when a member informed the bench that 100 labs across the country were conducting coronavirus tests. It asked the NDMA to furnish details of machines imported for DESTO to produce personal procurement equipment.