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Friday July 12, 2024

Punjab polls verdict can’t be implemented now: CJP

The apex court remarks decision for holding elections on May 14 now part of history

By Sohail Khan
June 08, 2023
Justice Munib Akhtar (left), CJP Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Ijazul Ahsan (right). — Supreme Court website
Justice Munib Akhtar (left), CJP Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Ijazul Ahsan (right). — Supreme Court website

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday clubbed the recently enacted law, the Supreme Court (Review of Judgments and Orders) 2023, with the petition of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) seeking the review of the apex court order of April 4, setting May 14 as the date for holding elections in the Punjab province. A three-member SC bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umer Ata Bandial, and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsen and Justice Munib Akhtar, heard the ECP review petition. The court issued notices to the federal government and attorney general for Pakistan (AGP) for June 13. At the start of the hearing, the CJP called the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lawyer Barrister Ali Zafar to the rostrum and asked him that some petitions had been filed before the court, challenging the Supreme Court (Review of Judgments and Orders) 2023. “At some stage, we have to take up these petitions challenging the second law enacted by the government. But we want to have your viewpoint on it,” the CJP told the lawyer. Barrister Ali Zafar, however, contended that the Supreme Court (Review of Judgments and Orders) 2023 was unconstitutional, adding that, in fact, the new law was a continuation of the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act, 2023. He submitted that the law points raised in the petitions challenging the second law were also raised in the pleas earlier challenging the first law, the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act 2023.

The PTI counsel suggested that it would be appropriate for the court to proceed with the review petition filed by the ECP as, he said, arguments had been made extensively by the electoral watchdog. “I have also prepared my arguments in this regard,” Ali Zafar submitted, but again suggested that the court could simultaneously hear the counsel for the petitioners challenging the review of judgments law. He submitted that if the review point persists, a larger bench could be constituted as required under the new law. Justice Munib Akhtar, however, observed that if the review law was applicable to the review petition of the ECP, then its counsel would be required to argue again before the larger bench and convince it. The judge asked the lawyer as to how come the court could continue hearing the Punjab polls case if the Supreme Court (Review of Judgments and Orders) Act 2023 has come into force. “Whether the new law could not be applied to the ECP review petition, that’s why it should be heard as per the old law,” Justice Munib asked the PTI counsel. Ali Zafar replied that right now the ECP review petition should be heard as per the old laws.

The chief justice observed that being a national issue pertaining to holding of elections, the court’s April 4 order setting May 14 date for elections in Punjab could not be reversed, as it is the constitutional requirement that after dissolution of assembly, elections would be held in 90 days. He remarked that everyone wanted a decision on the Punjab election review case. “There are certain limits for [filing] an appeal,” the top judge remarked, adding that the ECP’s lawyer had contended that they had extensive authorities.

“The matter of elections is a national issue. Implementation on the May 14 order is not possible but this has become a historical verdict,” he added. The chief justice said that everyone agrees with the Constitution, but not everyone is clear on enforcing the Constitution. The CJP recalled that the electoral watchdog had given the date of October 8 for polls, but then said the situation had changed due to the events of May 9. The chief justice, however, observed that the Election Commission should have the ability to conduct elections in any circumstances. At the outset of hearing, the CJP appreciated the government and institutions for arguing the matter in court. “Earlier, they were protesting at our gate,” the CJP remarked while referring to the sit-in by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) last month outside the court at Constitution Avenue.

“What was the purpose of that protest?” the CJP asked adding that the responsibility of dispensing justice is of Maula Karim [God]. The CJ observed that the court was ensuring the fundamental rights of people, but whosoever interfered in the matter would suffer dire consequences. The PTI counsel pleaded with the court to give its judgment on the ECP review petition. He contended that in the night between May 14 and 15, he felt that the Constitution had become dead as that night the judgment of the apex court on election was ridiculed. “Though the prime minister and others have taken oath to protect the Constitution, nobody adhered to it and violated the court order,” Ali Zafar said He further submitted that the new law, the Review of Judgments, was unconstitutional, adding that earlier he had objected to it on the floor of Senate with the contention that a proper debate should be conducted and amendments should be brought while changing the law; however, he said the government passed it without any debate. Later, the court clubbed both the matters and issued notices to the government and the AGP and adjourned the hearing until June 13.