Wednesday July 24, 2024

IHC bars new tribunals from hearing pleas till further orders

High court questions legal grounds of ECP order transferring poll-related petitions

By Arfa Feroz Zake
June 11, 2024
A general view of the Islamabad High Court building. — Geo News
A general view of the Islamabad High Court building. — Geo News

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday questioned the legal grounds of the Election Commission of Pakistan’s order transferring poll-related petitions and barred new election tribunals from hearing pleas till further orders.

The orders were issued by IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq while hearing the petitions against the ordinance for the Election Act amendments today. The hearing was attended by counsels representing the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-backed candidates and the ECP.

At the outset of the hearing, Justice Farooq expressed outrage over the ECP's order and remarked that the decision to change the election tribunals could not be upheld.

The high court questioned the election watchdog about grounds which led it to change the tribunals which were tasked to hear pleas against the ruling party’s lawmakers' election victory. To this, the ECP lawyer argued that the previous tribunals did not follow procedures.

Justice Farooq remarked that the ECP was seemingly setting a new precedent by transferring the tribunals. He added that the commission’s decision would not be considered legal until it proves “discrimination”, otherwise, it could also lead to contempt proceedings.

“Justice Tariq Mahmood Jahangiri is a jurist of this court who was deputed to the tribunal by the ECP over my request. Why did ECP transfer the cases without challenging an order? A case can be transferred on the grounds of discrimination but there is also a procedure which needs to be followed by requesting the concerned judge not to hear the case,” the IHC CJ observed.

The jurist also asked the government about reasons for promulgating the Election Act amendments via an ordinance after dissolving the legal modifications in a hurried manner.

He stressed that the ECP should have challenged the previous tribunals' orders first instead of transferring the cases.

During the hearing, the counsel from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) backed candidate Advocate Shoaib Shaheen informed the IHC that the ECP’s decision would be challenged. He further said that it came to his knowledge via media reports that Justice retired Shakoor Paracha was being appointed as the tribunal’s judge.

The counsel sought a court order to uphold the status of the election tribunals.

“The tribunal that has been recently constituted is only for Islamabad?” questioned the IHC CJ. To this, the ECP lawyer replied that he did not carry a copy of the June 7 notice which he would provide to the high court after collecting its details.

Justice Farooq reprimanded the ECP lawyer for not having the notice's copy which was already being circulated in the media.

On the occasion, PTI-backed candidate Muhammad Ali Bokhari said that they returned to the position of February 8 — the polling day of nationwide elections.

After listening to arguments from all parties in the case, the IHC barred the new election tribunals from continuing proceedings till the next hearing.

Yesterday, the petitions from three Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lawmakers in the federal capital won the ECP's approval, which sought the transfer of their cases to other poll tribunals.

It is noteworthy to mention that three PTI-backed candidates — Muhammad Ali Bokhari, Shoaib Shaheen and Aamir Mughal — had challenged the poll victory of the PML-N Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) from Islamabad constituencies after the 2024 nationwide polls by levelling the poll manipulation allegations.

The ECP's four-member bench headed by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja had reserved its verdict on the pleas filed by the ruling party’s lawmakers in the National Assembly including Anjum Aqeel Khan, Tariq Fazal Chaudhry and Khurram Shehzad Nawaz on June 7, Friday, which was announced yesterday.

The IHC had also suspended the lawmakers' victory notifications while their petitions were being heard by election tribunals. The PML-N leaders expressed a lack of confidence in the tribunals and sought to transfer the cases to other tribunals.