SC verdict on lifetime disqualification and amendments to election act cannot exist concurrently: CJP


ECP

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa asserted on Monday that the Supreme Court’s verdict on lifetime disqualification and the amendments introduced to the Elections Act, 2017 could not exist simultaneously.

In a ruling in 2018, the apex court had declared that disqualification under Article 62 (1)(f) of the Constitution, pertaining to a member of parliament being “sadiq and ameen” (honest and righteous), was intended to be “permanent.”

This legislation was the basis for the disqualification of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in the Panama Papers case and Imran Khan in the Toshakhana case earlier this year.

However, in June, the PDM coalition government passed an amendment to the Elections Act 2017, limiting lawmakers’ disqualification to five years retrospectively.

During the hearing on the disqualification case of ex-MPA Meer Badshah Khan Qaisrani, Chief Justice Isa remarked that either the Supreme Court’s 2018 verdict or the Election (Amendment) Act, 2023 must take precedence.

He made these remarks as the court addressed potential discrepancies that could cause “confusion” in the upcoming general elections and referred the matter to a three-judge panel.

Chief Justice Isa issued notices to Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan, advocate generals of all provinces, and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to provide assistance.

Justice Athar Minallah affirmed that polls would proceed on February 8 and cautioned against spreading uncertainty about elections, considering it contemptible. The court emphasized that the ongoing case should not be exploited to delay the upcoming elections.

At the outset of the proceedings, Chief Justice Isa queried the basis for the petitioner’s disqualification. Advocate Saqib Jilani explained that Qaisrani was disqualified in 2007 under Article 62(1)(f) for possessing a fake degree, with the Lahore High Court permitting him to contest the 2018 polls.

Justice Minallah questioned the admissibility of the case concerning the 2018 elections in the context of the upcoming polls. Jilani argued that the current case would impact the upcoming elections.

Chief Justice Isa questioned the continuation of lifelong disqualification after a person’s sentence concludes. The lawyer argued that disqualification should apply to those submitting false affidavits, citing the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Panama Papers case.

Chief Justice Isa noted the Supreme Court’s dual views on the order for lifelong disqualification and questioned the duration of disqualification for serious crimes like murder. Jilani stated that disqualification in a murder case was five years, echoing Justice Minallah’s observation about sexual abuse cases.

Chief Justice Isa inquired about recent legislation related to Article 62(1)(f) and lifelong disqualification. The lawyer mentioned the recent amendment to the Elections Act, limiting disqualification to five years.

Justice Minallah remarked that the Supreme Court’s verdict on lifelong disqualification became “ineffective” after amendments to the Elections Act. However, Chief Justice Isa noted that these amendments were unchallenged, and parties would rely on them. He emphasized that the addition of Section 232 to the Elections Act marked the end of the concept of lifelong disqualification.

The chief justice highlighted the proximity of general elections and expressed concern about the potential confusion faced by returning officers, courts, and tribunals. He emphasized that such uncertainty was detrimental to democracy.

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Justice Minallah asserted that the Elections Act would apply to the upcoming polls, rendering judgments on lifelong disqualification ineffective. Jilani mentioned Qaisrani’s pending appeal in the high court and urged the Supreme Court to issue an order. However, Chief Justice Isa clarified that the Supreme Court could not issue orders to the high court, reserving the SC’s role for constitutional matters.

He reiterated that the Supreme Court’s verdict on lifelong disqualification and the Election Act amendments could not coexist, and only one could prevail. Chief Justice Isa questioned the AGP about the government’s stance, to which Awan asserted that Section 232 of the Elections Act superseded the SC’s 2018 verdict.

Subsequently, Justice Isa directed the matter to a three-judge panel for constitutional interpretation, scheduling the hearing for January 2024.

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