ISLAMABAD, June 18: Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry observed on Monday that petitions filed against the National Assembly speaker’s ruling on the issue of disqualification of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani stated that Mr Gilani was ineligible to hold the office after his conviction by the Supreme Court.

“Isn’t it a reality that a convicted person is currently representing 180 million Pakistanis,” said the chief justice who heads a three-judge bench hearing a number of identical petitions challenging the NA speaker’s ruling which had saved the prime minister from being disqualified after his conviction in the contempt case.

Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain are other members of the bench.

The chief justice said that according to the applicants a convicted prime minister was presenting the budget and presiding over cabinet meetings, adding that the prime minister was representative of the country and not of a single party.

Concluding his arguments, prime minister’s counsel Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan contended that the court had no authority to disqualify a parliamentarian and, therefore, the matter should be referred back to the NA speaker or sent to the Election Commission. He argued that the case was not maintainable because the speaker’s ruling could not be challenged at any forum.

He said the sentence awarded by the apex court to the prime minister did not fall in the purview of disqualification. The verdict had not disqualified the prime minister, he added.

The chief justice said the supremacy of law and Constitution was judiciary’s top priority and asked Mr Ahsan to avoid giving references of controversial cases, including that of Gen Musharraf, Nusrat Bhutto and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

The counsel said he had never compromised on the law and the Constitution because of his political affiliations. He said he wouldn’t have supported the lawyers’ movement in 2007 if it was not the case.

The court observed that debates were held on the media without thoroughly reading the court’s verdicts. The chief justice said the speaker was a respectable person and custodian of the house, but some of her actions were different from parliament’s functions. “There are many cases that allow review of the speaker’s ruling,” he said. Barrister Ahsan said the prime minister had not been convicted of defaming or ridiculing the judiciary and, therefore, the question of disqualification did not arise.

He said the petitioners who had approached the court under fundamental rights could not establish what kind of their basic rights had been violated.

Citing the reason for not filing an appeal in the contempt case, he said the decision did not disqualify the prime minister so there was no need to move it. He contended that since the issue of disqualification of a member of the parliament was not the matter of public importance, none of the petitioners was able to invoke provisions of fundamental rights.

Barrister Ahsan said the speaker was not a mere post office after the 18th Amendment and it was incumbent upon her and her inescapable duty to decide if any question concerning disqualification of a member had arisen or not.

Attorney General Irfan Qadir contended that the seven-member bench which convicted the prime minister had moved beyond its jurisdiction as the issue before it was whether the respondent had committed contempt or not.

He said the Supreme Court had no role to play in matters to be decided either by the National Assembly speaker or the Election Commission.

“The issue before the bench was not disqualification of the prime minister, but it was required to decide whether he has committed any contempt or not,” he contended.

The chief justice disagreed with his viewpoint about the court’s directives in the NRO judgment and said these reasons could be taken up in an appeal.

Answering a question, Mr Qadir said all aspects of the issue had been taken care of by the speaker and she had written a very soft-worded ruling. There was no contempt of court law in the country and the prime minister could not be held guilty for what was unimplementable in the NRO judgement, he added.

Objecting to an additional note of a member of the seven-judge bench, he said the honourable judge had supported the verdict against the prime minister with mere six-page poetry. He said it was unique in judicial precedents of the country that a criminal case had been decided on the basis of poetry.

The chief justice warned him and stopped him from repeating the arguments.

The attorney general said the petitions should be dismissed because their movers had not approached the court with clean hands, especially the petitions of PTI chief Imran Khan and PML-N leader Khawaja Asif which had been filed to settle political scores and gain public attention.

Referring to an incident involving himself, the attorney general said he had never posed any indecent or vulgar gesture during the proceedings, but a wrong impression was created which also forced members of his family to question him.

He said Khawaja Asif was the ‘greatest liar’ who had presented the wrong impression on a TV programme.

The chief justice told him that he had already observed that there should be decorum in courts and everybody should respect it. Mr Qadir said the court should allow live coverage of the proceedings so that everybody should know what was going on or at least such kind of misreporting should be banned.

Responding to another question put by the court, the AG said there was no need to file an appeal or move an application under Article 183 of the Constitution because it was evident from the past precedents that old cases could be revisited without an appeal like Iqbal Tikka’s case.

The AG will resume his arguments on Tuesday.—Agencies

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