In a landmark judgement that could have repercussions for the future prospects of lawmakers across the political spectrum, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the suspension of a sentence awarded to an election candidate has no impact on his or her disqualification to contest the poll.
The court issued its verdict on an appeal filed by PML-N Gujrat leader Nasir Mehmood and another candidate, who had challenged a 2015 Lahore High Court order that ruled them ineligible to contest the elections for the chairman and vice-chairman of Union Council 3, Gujrat Municipal Corporation.
Mehmood was also handed prison terms after being convicted on charges related to false declaration, but his sentences were suspended by the high court on an appeal filed by him against the trial court's judgement. Mehmood's lawyer had argued that his client could contest the municipal polls while the sentences remained suspended.
However, a three-judge SC bench that heard the appeal in October last year ruled today that the suspension of a sentence would not make an election candidate eligible to contest the polls.
"The suspension of sentence would have no consequence on the conviction of the appellants for the purposes of being qualified to contest either the local bodies elections or the elections for the Legislative Assemblies," read the judgement authored by Justice Ijazul Ahsan.
According to the verdict, unless the conviction of a candidate is "specifically suspended" by an appellate court, or their appeal is ultimately allowed and their conviction and sentence are set aside by the appellate court, "the conviction of the appellant would continue to hold the field" and the disqualification incurred by him or her due to that conviction will remain intact.
The second argument adopted by Mehmood's counsel was that because the trial court had ordered that the sentences of one-and-a-half years awarded to his client on four counts would run concurrently, Mehmood did not attract the legal bar that applied to candidates who have been sentenced to a prison term of more than two years.
But the SC bench dismissed this argument as well, saying "it is the conviction and sentencing that is the determining factor rather than the actual time spent behind bars."
Interpreting clauses of Article 63 of the Constitution and the Punjab Local Government Act, 2013, the apex court clarified that the portion of sentence actually served by a candidate "is of no relevance" and their disqualification is attracted on the basis of conviction and sentence "'awarded' as opposed to served".
The appeal was subsequently dismissed as devoid of merit.