ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday dismissed a petition filed against the appointment of PML-N chief Shahbaz Sharif as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and held that proceedings of parliament were not a subject for judicial review.

A division bench, comprising Chief Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, on Dec 31 had reserved the decision on the petition filed by Riaz Hanif Rahi.

The petitioner challenged the vires of Rule 108 of the Rules of Business and Procedure of the National Assembly under which the speaker can issue a production order for an under-custody lawmaker. This enabled Mr Sharif (and another PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique) to attend the proceeding of the house and paved way for his election as the PAC chairman.

Division bench of IHC rules that proceedings of parliament are not a subject for judicial review

In its 14-page order, the bench declared the petition non-maintainable, adding: “The proceedings or acts falling under clauses 1 or 2 of Article 69 are not subject to a judicial review. Rule of 2007, consisting of committees or issuance of production orders for attendance of a member, fall within the ambit of the expression ‘proceeding’ for the purposes of Article 69 and the bar of jurisdiction contained therein.”

It added: “The appointment of respondent No 8 [Shahbaz] as chairman PAC has been made by the speaker in accordance with the procedure prescribed under Rules of 2007 and pursuant to an understanding between the treasury and opposition benches.”

The order reproduced Article 69 of the Constitution: “Courts not to inquire into proceedings of Majlis-i-Shoora (parliament). (1) the validity of any proceeding in [Majilis-i-Shoora] shall not be called in question on the ground of any irregularity of procedure. (2) No officer or member of Majilis-i-Shoora in whom powers are vested by or under the Constitution for regulating procedure or the conduct of business or for maintaining order in parliament shall be subject to the jurisdiction of any court in respect of the exercise by him of those powers.”

It explained: “It is obvious from a plain reading of Article 69 that the constitution bars a court from inquiring into the proceedings of parliament. Clause 1 provides that the validity of any proceeding in parliament shall not be called in question on the ground of any irregularity of procedure while clause 2 bars the jurisdiction of any court regarding any matter relating to an officer or member of parliament in whom powers are vested by or under the constitution for regulating the procedure.”

According to the court’s interpretation, “the aim and object of these rules are to regulate the procedure and conduct of business of the National Assembly. Moreover, Rule 108 of the Rules of 2007 vests discretion in the speaker to issue production order.”

Respondents No 8 (Shahbaz) and 12 (Saad Rafique) were arrested in connection with investigations which are pending under the NAB ordinance.

“They have not been convicted and at this stage they are only accused. Their status as accused entitles them to be treated as innocent till they are proven guilty…therefore, they cannot be restrained from attending the sessions of National Assembly.”

The court order added: “The respondents are in the physical custody of NAB and they are subject to investigation. The respective investigation officers do not appear to be aggrieved because if attending the sessions pursuant to the issuance of production orders had been a hindrance in the pending investigations, the bureau would have definitely taken up the matter with the speaker.

“In view of the above, we are satisfied that this petition is without merit and it is, therefore, accordingly dismissed in limine,” the court concluded.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2019