Four judges dissociate themselves from hearing Punjab, K-P polls case

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ISLAMABAD: Four Supreme Court judges on Monday dissociated themselves from hearing the suo moto case pertaining to the delay in the announcement of poll dates for Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P).

Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Yahya Afridi dissociated themselves from hearing the case. Earlier, the top court issued the February 23 written order, requesting to reconstitute the nine-member bench.

Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Yahya Afridi, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail and Justice Minallah’s dissenting notes were also included in the written order.

The request for reconstitution of the bench was referred to Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Atta Bandial. However, a five-member bench heared the case today.

The bench is deliberating upon the first question as who has the constitutional authority for giving date for elections following dissolution of assemblies.

Hearing of the case is adjourned until February 28 (tomorrow). CJP Bandial hinted to conclude the hearing by tomorrow.

The top court had taken suo motu notice over the delay in the announcement of elections for the provincial assemblies of Punjab and K-P since their dissolution earlier this year.

PTI lawyers Ali Zafar and Faisal Chaudhry alongside party leaders Fawad Chaudhry, Shireen Mazari and Dr Waseem Shehzad, as well as Mansoor Awan of PML-N, Farhatullah Babar of PPP, Kamran Murtaza of JUI-F and AML chief Sheikh Rashid appeared in court.

Pakistan Bar Vice Chairman Haroon Rasheed, Supreme Court Bar President Abid Zuberi, Islamabad High Court Bar President Shoaib Shaheen were also present.

A nine-judge bench, comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Yahya Afridi, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, and Justice Minallah, was earlier constituted to hear the case.

Earlier, major ruling political parties and superior bars were seeking the recusal of two members of the larger bench – Justice Ahsan and Justice Naqvi.

As the proceedings commenced, CJ Bandial said that the court “wishes to run things as per the Constitution”.

“The court will continue to hear the case for the sake of interpretation of the Constitution”, said CJ Bandial while adding that the bench was keen to complete proceedings as early as possible.

The top judge also expressed concern over Justice Mandokhail’s dissenting note being shared on social media prematurely, which he deemed highly “inappropriate”.

“Until the order is published on the [official] website, it cannot be shared,” said Justice Bandial adding that “care will be taken in the future that such an incident is not repeated”.

The court then asked the PTI lawyer to satisfy the bench so that the case could be heard by the SC.

Meanwhile, PPP counsel Advocate Farooq Naek reminded the court that a request for the constitution of a full bench in the case was still pending.

Upon this, the CJ assured him that the request would be heard as well.

It may be noted that in addition to the future of the provincial assemblies, the reputation of the top court hangs in the balance.

Judges off the bench

While Justice Ahsan and Justice Naqvi recused themselves from hearing the case, Justice Afridi and Justice Minallah were not included in the newly constituted bench by the CJP.

The decision to keep the two out of the proceedings came after Justice Afridi in his dissenting note said that he has already “decided that exercising powers under Article 18(3) of the Constitution would not be appropriate” and therefore held that it would be of “no avail” for him to remain on the bench.

However, he had left the decision of his inclusion on the bench up to CJ Bandial.

Meanwhile, Justice Minallah in his note concurred with Justice Afridi’s opinion and said that “it is implicit in the language of Article 184(3) that the conferred extraordinary original jurisdiction must be entertained and heard by the full court”.

He also raised questions over the chief minister’s powers in dissolving an assembly and even pondered if the provincial assembly could be restored should the chief minister’s advice is found to be constitutionally invalid.

During the previous proceedings, one member of the larger bench, Justice Mandokhail, expressed his reservations over invoking the suo motu jurisdiction in the matter.

Justice Minallah questioned whether or not a full court should hear the matter, which fell under Article 184-3 of the Constitution.

It was witnessed for the first time that one judge raised questions on the conduct of other fellow members while sitting on the same bench.

The division among SC judges is widening with each passing day.

Even after Thursday’s hearing, harsh words were exchanged between some members of the larger bench.

 

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