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Friday July 12, 2024

Tribunals case: SC dismisses ECP plea to stay LHC verdict

CJP terms promulgation of ordinance an "insult to parliament" in light of existing legislation on a relevant issue

By Arfa Feroz Zake
June 20, 2024
Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa presides the televised full court hearing on September 18, 2023, in this still taken from a video. — State media
Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa presides the televised full court hearing on September 18, 2023, in this still taken from a video. — State media

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court Thursday dismissed the Election Commission of Pakistan's (ECP) plea to issue a stay order in the election tribunals case.

The court has sent the case to the three-member SC committee for the constitution of a larger bench over the said issue.

The development comes as a two-member bench comprising the CJP and Justice Naeem Akhtar Afghan heard the ECP's petition filed against the LHC's verdict wherein the court had constituted election tribunals regarding multiple constituencies in Punjab.

The ECP had moved the apex court under Article 185(3) of the Constitution against the LHC's May 29 verdict wherein it had constituted eight election tribunals.

The order of the court's single-member bench comprising LHC CJ Malik Shahzad Ahmad provisioned that Justice Shahid Karim, Justice Ch Muhammad Iqbal, Justice Anwaar Hussain, and Justice Sultan Tanvir Ahmad would hear the election petitions at the LHC principal seat in Lahore.

Whereas Justice Asim Hafeez will hear the election petitions at the LHC Bahawalpur bench, Justice Sardar Muhammad Sarfraz Dogar and Justice Raheel Kamran will hear the election petitions at the LHC Multan bench, and Justice Mirza Viqas Rauf will hear the election petitions at the LHC Rawalpindi bench.

The order, which came in response to petitions filed by Rao Hashim Omar Khan and others, had also ordered the ECP to appoint six more judges, nominated by the LHC chief justice, as election tribunals.

It is pertinent to mention here that two out of the eight election tribunals were already working in Punjab.

In response, the electoral body, in its appeal filed in the SC, sought leave to appeal against the impugned judgement of the LHC contending that under Article 219 read with Article 222(b) of the Constitution, the power to appoint the election tribunals was vested in the electoral body.

The ECP had further argued that Article 219 of the Constitution did not expressly require the body to consult the relevant high court's chief justice for appointing election tribunals or for allocating territorial jurisdiction to such election tribunals.

Section 140(3) of the Elections Act 2017 only required consultation with the chief justice of the high court concerned on the appointment of sitting high court judges as election tribunals, but this consultation did not cover the allocation of territorial jurisdiction to the election tribunals which was the sole power and prerogative of the Election Commission, as was evident from Section 140(1) read with Section 151 of the Elections Act 2017, the petition stated.

During the hearing today, CP Isa questioned how the ECP was issuing presidential ordinance and wondered why the electoral body didn't meet the LHC CJ.

"[Presidential] ordinance is an insult to the parliament when it has already made a law [on an issue], he said, adding: "Nowhere is it written in the Constitution that one cannot meet a judge [...] why is the ECP controversial?" 

Responding to the chief justice's comments, ECP's lawyer Sikandar Bashir said that he didn't legislate the law on the ordinance and that he wasn't defending the ordinance at all.

"The ordinance was promulgated in light of the existing burden [of cases] on the judiciary," the lawyer said.

Referring to the CJP's remarks regarding parliament's insult, the counsel maintained that he wasn't representing the federation.

He also apprised the court that the ECP had written to the LHC under Section 140 of the Elections Act seeking a list of serving and retired judges' names.

Meanwhile, representing the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in this case, Barrister Salman Akram Raja apprised the court that the ordinance on the said issue has been challenged in Islamabad High Court (IHC) and the LHC.

To this, the CJP questioned why it was challenged in different high courts as the ordinance would be enforced throughout the country.

"We cannot issue a notice as the ordinance hasn't been challenged in the SC," he said.

The chief justice further remarked that the issue concerning Form 45 is currently in an election tribunal and the apex court would review the relevant law if the issue eventually comes before them.