ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) has urged the apex court to take up urgently its petition seeking review of the court’s opinion on the interpretation of Article 63A of the Constitution, given through a short order on May 17.

In a statement issued on Sunday, SCBA president Muhammad Ahsan Bhoon said hearing of the review petition had now become important in view of the raging debate over the interpretation of Article 63A(1b) — a matter related strictly to an understanding of the Constitution.

Ahsan Bhoon advised all political parties to refrain from making orders of the apex court and its judges controversial and let the court interpret constitutional matters.

By a majority of three to two, the SC held on May 17 in a presidential reference that since Article 63A ensures fundamental rights of a parliamentary party rather than its members, a vote cast contrary to the party line should not be counted.

Ex-SC judge Maqbool Baqar says a hearing by full court would enhance judiciary’s image

The short order had further held that political parties were an integral part of the bedrock on which democracy rests and attempts to weaken them would put democracy itself in peril.

The SCBA then moved a review petition on June 23 with a plea that the apex court’s opinion was not in accord with the norms of parliamentary democracy and that the interpretation of Article 63A adopted by the Supreme Court amounted to reincarnating the proviso to Article 96(5). The clause had been made subject to a sunset clause by the framers and had never been reintroduced by parliament, Ahsan Bhoon observed.

Defectors’ votes

The review petition emphasised that the framers of the Constitution had intended to disregard votes by defectors as a stop-gap arrangement to ensure stability during the first decade after promulgation of the statute, Mr. Bhoon argued.

Had it been the architects’ intent or subsequently, of parliament, to make a provision for disregarding defectors’ votes, a clause similar to the proviso of erstwhile Article 96(5) could have been inserted.

Had the review petition been taken up by the court before the recent vote for election of the Punjab chief minister, Ahsan Bhoon said, no controversy over the interpretation of Article 63A(1)(b) would have arisen.

Referring to the apex court’s short order of May 17, he said it was a split decision and proved that certain questions needed to be addressed.

Mr Bhoon said a full court should hear the matter to ensure a “conclusive interpretation” and to restore the nation’s confidence in political parties.

He said the SCBA believed the interpretation of Article 63A, pertaining to treatment of dissidents, was against the norms of natural justice. “Hence it requires a thorough debate.”

Hamza’s statement

Reliable sources told Dawn that Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz is likely to file a concise statement before the Supreme Court on Monday when it resumes hearing on the petition filed by Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi against the deputy speaker’s ruling.

Mansoor Usman Awan, Mr Shehbaz’s counsel, is expected to request the three-member bench to constitute a full court to hear the matter.

Retired judge’s plea

Justice Maqbool Baqar, a reti­red judge of the Supreme Court, has added his weight to pleas for the constitution of a full court, consisting of all available judges, to hear the petition against the deputy speaker’s ruling.

Justice Baqar, who had expressed his reservations in his farewell speech about the composition of benches in the Supreme Court, said a hearing by the full court would enhance the judiciary’s image.

The judge said all important cases should be heard by benches consisting of the most senior judges and that there was no harm if a full court was formed.

Hafizur Rehman Chaudhry, the Pakistan Bar Council’s vice chairman, also requested the apex court to conduct an urgent hearing of the SCBA’s review petition on Article 63A.

Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2022

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