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Wednesday, May 22, 2024  
14 Dhul-Qadah 1445  

SC adjourns hearing as new law wards off danger of disqualification for current govt

CJP says the court will take into account the Supreme Court Review of Judgements and Orders Act
Photo: File
Photo: File

Highlights

  • The law took force after President Alvi signed it last week rather than sending it back to Parliament
  • Govt’s appeal for a review of the top court judgment on the May 14 election date could now be granted
  • The apex court blocked a similar law earlier this month

The Supreme Court of Pakistan adjourned on Monday the hearing of the review petitions in the Punjab election date case for an indefinite period after it was told by the government that a new law allowing review of the suo motu judgments had taken effect.

The PTI wants the top court to disqualify the current government over its failure to hold elections in Punjab on May 14 as ordered by the Supreme Court. However, such a drastic decision is unlikely now, especially after the enactment of the new law, the Supreme Court (Review of Judgements and Orders) Act 2023.

The law provides that judgments given under Article 184(3), which is known as the review clause, could be appealed against and reviewed. Earlier, no review of suo motu judgments was allowed which meant that the SC verdict on the election date was final and could not be reviewed or changed. By extension, it also meant that the government stood in contempt of court.

Ironically, the new law came into force after President Arif Alvi signed it last week instead of sending it back to the parliament as he has done in the case of many other pieces of legislation.

The law took effect on Friday, Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Usman Manzoor told the three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Umar Atta Bandial soon after it commenced the hearing on Monday.

The CJP said the court would take into account the new law and added that he was in favor of granting the right of appeal in suo motu judgments.

The development comes weeks after the Supreme Court of Pakistan suspended another similar law passed by the parliament. The Supreme Court Practices and Procedures Act 2023, besides clipping some of the power of the chief justice of Pakistan, allowed a right of appeal in judgments given under Article 184(3). However, PTI and others challenged the law and the CJP formed an eight-member bench to hear petitions against it. On the first hearing, the law was suspended and the next hearing is set for Thursday, June 1.

On Monday, the CJP also referred to the Supreme Court Practices and Procedures Act and said that apparently, the government had understood that the practices and procedure law did not stand any chance in the court.

The CJP told the AGP to get instructions from the government on the Practices and Procedures Act for Thursday’s hearing.

The chief justice also said that the new development was interesting and the government had got what it wanted by enacting the new law.

At the hearing, no one appeared from the PTI.

The CJP said that the court was adjourning the hearing for now and meanwhile the PTI would learn about the new piece of legislation.

The three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial includes Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Muneeb Akhtar.

Judicialization of politics and politicization of judiciary should not happen: Qadir

Special Assistant to the PM on Accountability Irfan Qadir addressed a press conference in Islamabad that centered on the judiciary and political cases since the disqualification of former prime ministers Yousaf Raza Gillani and Nawaz Sharif to the powers of CJP over the past 10 years.

He started off with terms “judicialization of politics and politicization of judiciary”, saying that such things should not happen. Here are the key points of his press conference.

  • We don’t need statements like ‘we have respect for you’ as we are human beings
  • Individual, fard e wahid, neither should control Pakistan nor Constitution allow it
  • Judicialization of politics is under way here with the formation of benches
  • Yousaf Raza Gillani’s disqualification and ouster were the biggest violation
  • Constitution says the prime minister is not answerable to anyone
  • Political engineering was done to send Nawaz Sharif home in the Panama case
  • Constitution nowhere says disqualification will be for life
  • CJP and junior most say is equal, said Qadir while speaking about the suo motu powers
  • Concepts like CJP is master of roster is not part of Constitution
  • Neither SC, governor, and president can give election date
  • Neither they should interfere in administrative measures, construct dams, run hospitals, PIA, and railways. They should dispose of pending cases
  • Constitutional courts should be formed in Pakistan. It can have people from the media, Parliament, and legal fraternity. Eight to 10 members of Constitutional courts should deal with such cases.
  • Interim government cannot go home until a new government is installed and elections are held

Previous hearing

The Supreme Court had earlier ruled that the ECP should hold elections for Punjab on May 14. This case concerns only that provincial assembly.

During the hearing Thursday, ECP’s lawyer Sajeel Swati argued that the Supreme Court ruling did not reduce the ECP’s constitutional authority to be able to decide when elections should be held.

Justice Akhtar remarked that if this argument were accepted then the Supreme Court rules would become void.

The counsel said that in certain cases, parliament’s lawmaking authority was also limited.

Justice Akhtar said the lawyer had expanded the scope of the review more than its parent case.

The ECP counsel argued that a caretaker government must be in place for elections.

To this, Justice Ahsan questioned if a provincial assembly was dissolved in six months, would a caretaker set-up remain for four-and-a-half-years in that province? The counsel responded in the affirmative.

He said that Article 254 can provide legal cover to any extension to the 90-day deadline to hold elections to an assembly that has been dissolved. He added that elections can be delayed beyond 90 days.

The judge remarked that it can also be treated in such a way that an elected government stays for four-and-a-half years and a caretaker for six months. He added that the 90-day period is also given in the Constitution.

“Where is it mentioned that a caretaker government’s duration can be extended?” Justice Ahsan asked if adding any extension to the caretaker set-up’s duration is against the spirit of the Constitution.

The lawyer agreed to the court’s observation.

The counsel contended that only an elected government can run the country, adding there can be no breaks in democracy.

Justice Ahsan commented that caretaker governments were included in the Constitution only to facilitate the election commission, adding that it is the responsibility of the ECP to conduct fair elections.

The election commission cannot express its inability to conduct fair polls, the counsel said.

To this, Justice Akhtar remarked that the ECP would say it needed funds and security, to organize the polls. Those talking about the Constitutional rule are running away from it, he added.

The ECP counsel said the October 8 date for elections was given based on facts. To this, Justice Akhtar asked what if the commission tells the court in September that the election cannot be held in October?

He remarked that conducting elections was the election commission’s duty and not a prerogative.

The CJP asked how long will democracy be sacrificed by extending elections, adding democracy has been sacrificed several times in history and its results have been faced for years. He said that the ECP is making political statements now.

He said the Balochistan local government polls were held despite security concerns. If elections are delayed, negative elements exert their force.

“As caretakers of the Constitution, how long will the Supreme Court stay silent?” the CJP asked.

The counsel responded that the May 9 violence have validated the ECP’s fears.

Justice Ahsan asked if a caretaker government can stay for as long as it wants. The ECP counsel said the duration of a caretaker set-up will be determined as per the circumstances.

Justice Aktar said the election commission told the court that only funds were required for polls, and now it says that the polls are not possible under the rules of the Constitution.

The CJP asked which articles of the Constitution will become ineffective if elections are held simultaneously across the country. If the system was strong, it will probably be possible to hold separate elections, he remarked.

The ECP counsel said separate elections to all assemblies are not possible in the current circumstances. If there is an elected government in Punjab, how the National Assembly polls will be fair, he asked.

The CJP responded that the provincial assembly’s interference can be stopped in the NA elections, adding if the commission is strong and fair, there can be no interference.

This issue can be solved administratively, CJP Bandial remarked.

The CJP said the election commission should not accept the Finance Ministry’s excuses, and seek solid explanation from the government. Yesterday, Rs20 billion were issued for lawmakers’ development schemes.

The ECP is itself inactive, the CJP remarked. It demanded 450,000 security personnel, which is as much as the total army strength.

He also asked the ECP to do its homework and come so that it could be determined what its problem is.

The army offered its quick response force to the election commission, CJP Bandial said, adding it was enough.

Apparently, October 8 has been given because of the National Assembly, he observed.

The ECP counsel said there was no reason to doubt the government institutions’ report, adding the October date was suggested over terrorism threats.

When asked how will the situation improve by October and what the commission thinks now that when can the elections be held, the counsel said after the May 9 incidents, the situation will have to be reviewed afresh.

The CJP remarked that the ECP has still not clarified how much delay in the elections is tolerable.

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