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Sunday February 05, 2023

ECP's contempt notices: SC asks high courts to clear PTI pleas swiftly

ECP asks SC to combine all PTI cases against electoral body underway in high courts

December 06, 2022
The photo shows the gleaming white marble exterior of the Supreme Court of Pakistans building in Islamabad. — AFP/ file
The photo shows the gleaming white marble exterior of the Supreme Court of Pakistan's building in Islamabad. — AFP/ file

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Tuesday directed the country’s high courts to quickly dispose of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) pleas against the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) contempt notices.

On October 25, the ECP moved the apex court to lift the stay order by the Lahore High Court (LHC) against the commission’s contempt notices to the PTI Chairman Imran Khan and other party leaders.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial headed the three-member bench consisting of Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Ayesha Malik as members.

During the hearing, the commission requested the apex court to consolidate all the cases filed against the electoral body in the LHC, Sindh High Court (SHC), and Islamabad High Court (IHC).

"The high courts should quickly give a verdict on the PTI's petitions against the ECP's contempt notices," said the court.

As per the ECP, the LHC has stopped the electoral body from issuing notices against the PTI leadership, the court said.

"The order … will be issued once the election commission completes its proceedings," it added.

The court also stated that the LHC had not stopped the ECP from carrying out the proceedings. "It has only refrained the commission from passing a final judgement," added the apex court.

During the hearing, ECP's director-general of law stated that there were cases against the commission in three high courts. The DG requested the court to consolidate the pleas.

At this, PTI's lawyer Anwar Munawar said the cases could not be combined just for the convenience of the parties.

"Election Commission of Pakistan is a constitutional body. How can a stay order be issued against its actions?" asked Justice Minallah.

To this, Advocate Munawar said that no stay order had been issued against the election commission's proceedings. He added that the PTI leaders had submitted their answers.

CJP Bandial also asked whether the cases in different high courts could be consolidated.

The ECP's lawyer, during the hearing, noted that the LHC had stopped the commission from disciplinary action against the suspects.

At this, Justice Malik said that disciplinary action will be taken once the proceedings of contempt of court cases were completed.

The lawyer stated that Election Act's Section 10 allows the body to carry out contempt proceedings, adding that the PTI chief, Secretary-General Asad Umar, and senior leader Fawad Chaudhry had so far failed to appear before the ECP.

At this, Justice Malik said no high court had stopped the election commission from carrying out the proceedings. "The election commission itself stopped the contempt proceedings after October," she added.

At this, the ECP's lawyer said that the electoral body had been stopped by the orders of the high court.

Justice Malik asked then how were the proceedings carried out.

Justice Minallah said that an institution had been made dysfunctional by an apparent court order.

"Election commission has authority to take action as per the law," said the chief justice.

At this, the ECP's lawyer asked the court to order the PTI leaders to appear before the commission. Justice Malik said that the order would be premature, adding that the request to merge the cases would also be premature.

The lawyer asked the court to order the high courts to quickly decide on the petitions filed against the election commission.

The election commission asked the court to grant it time until it finishes studying court orders.

Then, the Supreme Court adjourned the hearing.

SC asked to resume contempt proceedings

The election commission filed a petition in the SC urging the lifting of the stay order issued by the LHC against the commission's contempt notices.

On August 19, the ECP issued notices to Khan, Chaudhry, and Umar for “contemptuous” remarks against the commission. In its notices, the ECP accused the ex-premier of levelling “baseless allegations” at the ECP and its chief in his addresses on July 18, 21, 27, August 4, and 10.

On September 2, the Rawalpindi bench of the LHC suspended those contempt notices.

Urging the top court to lift the LHC’s order, the ECP argued that the suspect could not challenge the electoral watchdog’s proceedings after submitting a written reply.

The LHC issued the stay order after the suspects assured the court that they would appear before the ECP, as per the petition. Despite assuring the LHC, the suspects did not show up at the hearings, it added.

Election Act 2017 empowers the ECP to conduct contempt proceedings, the electoral watchdog added.