Supreme Court of Pakistan

From Academic Kids

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Supreme Court of Pakistan, Islamabad

The Supreme Court is the apex court in Pakistan's judicial hierarchy, the final arbiter of legal and constitutional disputes. The Court's permanent seat is Islamabad. The Court has a number of de jure powers which are outlined in the Constitution of Pakistan as well as de facto powers which many have considered remarkable given the nation's history of military rule during which part or all of the constitution has been suspended.


Constitutional Authority

Part VII, chapter 2 of the Constitution (articles 176 thru 191) deals with the powers, composition, rules, and responsibilities of the Supreme Court. Here is a summary:

  • Article 176 - composition of the Court
  • Article 177 - appointment and qualifictions of the Chief Justice
  • Article 178 - oath of office
  • Article 179 - retirement
  • Article 180 - vacancy, absence, or inability of Chief Justice
  • Article 181 - vacancy, absence, or inability of other judges
  • Article 182 - ad hoc judges
  • Article 183 - location of Court
  • Article 184 - jurisdiction in dispute between two or more Governments
  • Article 185 - jurisdiction to hear and determine appeals
  • Article 186 - if requested, advise the President on important matters of law
  • Article 186A- authority to transfer venue
  • Article 187 - orders and subpoenas
  • Article 188 - power to review its own judgements and orders
  • Article 189 - Supreme Court's decisions binding on all other Pakistani Courts.
  • Article 190 - all executive and judicial authorities in Pakistan are bound to aid the Supreme Court.

In addition to the above, the Constitution makes numerous references to the Supreme Court in other chapters and sections. An important function of the judiciary branch is to provide checks and balances to the power of the other branches of government.

De Jure Power

The Supreme Court has the explicit, de jure power to block the exercise of certain Presidential reserve powers. For example, under Article 58, the President may dismiss the National Assembly (triggering new elections) but the dismissal is subject to Supreme Court approval. The Court also has the power to overturn presidential orders and parliamentary legislation by declaring such orders or laws to be unconstitutional.

Another example: article 17 of the Constitution states:

Every citizen, not being in the service of Pakistan, shall have the right to form or be a memberof a political party, subject to any reasonab1e restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan and such law shall provide that where the Federal Government declare that any political party has been formed oris operating in a manner prejudicial to the sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan, the Federal Government shall,within fifteen days of such declaration, refer the matter to the Supreme Court whose decision on such reference shall be final.

The Supreme Court thus provides, in principle, an important safeguard against the abuse of laws that have the potential to have politically repressive consequences.

De Facto Power

The de jure powers of the court as outlined in the Constitution must be seen in the context of Pakistani political history during which the army has seized power, declared martial law and suspended the constitution. Despite the military interventions in the government, the court has maintained its institutional integrity and has been able in some degree to maintain its authority in the face of military rule.

The Court has the strong support of the people and the elite and is one of the more respected institutions in the nation. Even during military rule, when the Court might have been expected to be subject to a supra-constitutional dispensation, it has managed to use its institutional authority to maintain some influence over political events.

For example, shortly after the government of General Pervez Musharraf came to power by a coup, the opposition challenged the legitimacy of the coup, asking the court to rule on its legality Military takeover challenged in court; BBC, Nov 22 1999 ( On May 12, 2000 the Court rendered a nuanced verdict Pakistan court limits army rule (, and -

  • in its preamble, the Court -
    • rejected the options of "complete surrender" to the regime or total opposition which, in its judgement, would have led to the "closure of the courts". It chose a middle course (praised by retired US judge John Clifford Wallace) that allowed the Court to maximize its influence
    • asserted that it had the inherent power to examine the validity of Musharraf's orders, even orders purportedly restraining the Court from questioning his proclamations
    • called Musharraf's coup an "extra-constitutional action" but
  • in its judgement,
    • accepted the coup on the grounds of:
      • the doctrine of state Necessity (a situation having arisen for which "there was no remedy provided in the Constitution", checks and balances such as Article 58(2)(b) having been removed by the Thirteenth Amendment, hence Necessitas facit licitum quod alias non est licitum) and
      • the principle of salus populi suprema lex, and
      • the principle "that the government should be by the consent of the governed, whether voters or not" (the court took note of the fact that the takeover was widely welcomed, and little-protested, and hence that the regime had the implied consent of the governed)
    • asserted the right of the Superior Courts to review the orders, proceedings, acts, and legislative measures of the Musharraf regime, and
    • termed the situation a "case of constitutional deviation for a transitional period", and
    • accepted the government's argument that the electoral rolls were outdated and that fresh elections could not be held without updating the electoral rolls, and that two years were required to do so, and
    • gave Musharraf until May 12, 2002 to hold elections, and
    • reserved for itself the right to review/re-examine the continuation of Musharraf's emergency powers.

Although the government, before this judgement, had not given a timetable for the restoration of democracy - having argued that it needed an indefinite and possibly prolonged time to reform the country - Musharraf publicly submitted to the Courts judgement [1] ( The elections were duly held in October 2002 as ordered and the Constitution was revived.

Pakistani legal theorists have posited that Pakistan's grundnorm, the basis for its Constitutional convention and system of laws, continues in effect (and the Supreme Court therefore retains its authority) even when the written constitution is suspended by the imposition of a military dictablanda.



Normally, the Court consists of a Chief Justice and 16 Judges.

Related Articles


Other Institutions, Offices and Branches of the Government

Constitution and Laws of Pakistan


External Links


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