A bill does not automatically become law without the president’s response
A bill returned by the president can only become law if it is passed by both houses of the parliament again
Claim: According to the Constitution, if the president doesn’t sign a draft bill or return it with his observations or objections within ten days after it has already been through the National Assembly and the Senate, it will become law.
Fact: According to the Constitution, if the president doesn’t sign a draft bill or return it with his observations or objections within ten days, then it has to be reconsidered by the Senate and National Assembly and passed again with a majority for it to become law.
On 20 August 2023, Reuters published a news article about President Arif Alvi’s stance on the new national security laws. The headline read: “Pakistan’s president refuses to sign new national security laws.”
This article was published shortly after the president tweeted the following statement:
“As God is my witness, I did not sign Official Secrets Amendment Bill 2023 & Pakistan Army Amendment Bill 2023 as I disagreed with these laws. I asked my staff to return the bills unsigned within stipulated time to make them ineffective. I confirmed from them many times that whether they have been returned & was assured that they were. However I have found out today that my staff undermined my will and command. As Allah knows all, He will forgive IA. But I ask forgiveness from those who will be effected.”
Dr Alvi asserted that he did not sign off on the nationwide enactment of the Official Secrets Amendment Bill 2023 and Pakistan Army Amendment Bill 2023.
The Official Secrets Amendment Act (2023) was published in the Gazette of Pakistan on 18 August 2023. This amendment sought to amend section 2 of the Anti Espionage Act of 1923, a colonial law still being used in Pakistan. According to the new amendment, any person who attacks or damages a ‘prohibited’ place can be tried in a special court. It also means that the intelligence agencies can enter and search any place without a warrant, and there is no limitation on the use of force. The bill also proposes up to three years in jail for anyone who discloses the identity of members of intelligence agencies, informants, or sources.
The Pakistan Army Amendment Act (2023) now mandates up to 5 years of rigorous imprisonment to any person guilty of disclosing any information which may be ‘prejudicial’ to the security and interest of the armed forces. This amendment also gives power to the army chief and prescribes imprisonment for the defamation of the army. Any actions under this act will be tried in a court constituted under the Army Act.
Fact or Fiction?
The caretaker law minister, and several media organisations, including Reuters, claimed that President Alvi’s direct assent does not need to be articulated for the bill to pass. The article said: “According to the constitution, if the president doesn’t sign a draft bill or return it back with his observations or objections within ten days after it has already been through the two houses it will become law.”
However, this is neither the correct interpretation of the law nor is it the result of any form of legal consensus. Pakistani lawyer and legal adviser for the International Commission of Jurists, Reema Omer, posted a Twitter thread on the matter, clarifying that as per the Article 75 of the 1973 Constitution, it is clear that assent can not be “deemed” to be given after 10 days if the President does not send back the bill with observations or signs it.
She explained that in 1985, the provision for “deemed assent” was removed and Article 75(2) was added which gave the president the option of returning the bill back to Parliament with some added comments for reconsideration. The 18th Amendment changed the article again and the “deemed assent” provision was added only in the case when the bill has been sent back to Parliament by the president, passed by the Parliament again and sent back to the president a second time.
Another prominent lawyer, Salman Akram Raja, also shared a similar statement on Twitter, where he explained that deemed assent only applies once Parliament passes the bill after having received it back from the president, without his assent. This means that one bill has to go through two rounds of being voted in both houses of the parliament if it is returned or not signed by the president.
Article 75 sub clause I of the 1973 Constitution, which is in question here, is reproduced below:
“75. President’s assent to Bills.
(1) When a Bill is presented to the President for assent, the President shall, within 183[ten] 183 days,-
(a) assent to the Bill; or
(b) in the case of a Bill other than a Money Bill, return the Bill to the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) with a message requesting that the Bill, or any specified provision thereof, be reconsidered and that any amendment specified in the message be considered.”
We also spoke to lawyer Umer Gillani, “If a bill goes to the president, there are two options, either he signs it or returns it with his observations to be considered. But in case the president does neither, then the question arises if it can be deemed that he signed it or returned it? Can this be considered to be a stalemate?” He further added, “Now it is true that he should exercise his options, but if he has not signed it, then it is deemed he has returned it. In fact, once a president returns the bill, it must be passed by the parliament — both houses — again. and then when it goes to the president, his assent is deemed. This is my legal opinion and I believe this is closer to the interpretation of the 1973 Constitution.”
We asked him to further elaborate on this in the context of the Parliament having been dissolved. Gillani stated, “The president has now explicitly claimed that he did not sign it, so it is only natural to believe that he is not deemed to assent but, in fact, he is deemed to have returned the bill. Usually when a president is in such a position then the bill is returned to the parliament but in the case of the parliament having been dissolved and the president has returned it, the bill becomes thin air so that if a leaving parliament rushedly passes some laws which are not beneficial for the nation, they may be not come in effect.”
This means that constitutionally, both these amendments are not part of the law in Pakistan. But if they start to be implemented by force and unconstitutionally,
Conclusion: According to the 1973 Constitution, the president is not deemed to have given assent to a bill if he does not respond within 10 days of the bill reaching him, in fact, it has to be passed again by both the houses of the parliament and sent back to the president, at this moment his assent can be deemed.
To appeal our fact-check, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org