Shariat Court vs Parliament: Who cares about women?

Published: December 23, 2010
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The plight of women in Pakistan is generally terrible.

I am not a lawyer but I have been a keen observer of how courts work and how they deliver their verdicts for long enough to make some sense of them.

In this regard, without getting into the legal aspects of the judgment delivered by the Federal Shariat Court on December 22, one point does need to be made, and that is that the judgment of the court (now headed by a judge who was seen by some as being a nominee of the president) effectively undermines the sovereignty of parliament and the mandate it has to make new laws and to nullify existing defective ones.

Also, that the Hudood Ordinance, for instance, was a man-made document and did not descend from the heavens above, so to speak, and hence it needed to be looked at as something that could be improved upon.

The Shariat Court judgment that ruled against Sections 11 and 28 of the Women’s Protection Act 2006 (as reported in the media on December 23) has to do with the fact that these two sections omitted the clause which says that the Hudood Ordinance 1979 should not override other law. This makes sense especially since the objective of the Women’s Protection Bill is to improve on a defective law. Moreover, the Women’s Protection Act was passed by both houses of parliament and has the sanction of the will of the people.

However, the argument taken by the Shariat Court seems to suggest that it holds the dictates of a dictator, General Ziaul Haq in greater regard since it was under his rule that the ordinance was promulgated. Surely, this leaves no room but to perceive the Shariat Court judgment as undermining the sovereignty of parliament since it should have the prerogative to repeal or make obsolete bad laws. The Hudood Ordinance is not a divine law but a man made one, and a defective one at that.

The question now is: where will the verdict lead to? Will parliament demonstrate the courage, as it should, to assert itself and insist that the law it passed after much deliberation and a long struggle, was the correct thing to do? Will it insist, especially given the generally terrible plight of women in Pakistan and because the passage of the Women’s Protection Bill sought to reduce some of the discrimination that they experience in the course of their daily existence?

Omar R Quraishi

Omar R Quraishi

The editor of the editorial pages of The Express Tribune. He tweets as @omar_quraishi (twitter.com/omar_quraishi)

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