• Detailed reasons to be issued later
• Counsel for ruling parties asked to come prepared for argument on Elahi’s plea today
• CJP says ‘expeditious’ decision must for smooth functioning of govt, constitutional machinery

ISLAMABAD: After a prolonged hearing that continued late into Monday evening, the Supreme Court finally rejected a set of petitions moved by the ruling coalition partners seeking hearing of Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi’s plea by a full court comprising all available judges to decide the issue of chief minister’s election.

However, the Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial-led bench provided another opportunity to the counsel representing Pakistan Democratic Move­ment (PDM) member parties to come prepared on Tuesday so that Mr Elahi’s challenge to Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Dost Mohammad Khan Mazari’s ruling for discarding all 10 PML-Q votes could be discussed threadbare.

At the hearing, Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan, a member of the three-member SC bench, repeatedly mentioned that all what the court wanted was an explanation if the direction to lawmakers comes from party head or parliamentary leader.

Moved by Mr Elahi, one of the contestants for the top Punjab slot, the petition challenging the ruling of the deputy speaker was accepted by the apex court Friday midnight and later allowed PML-N leader Hamza Shehbaz to function as a trustee CM with limited powers.

On Monday, the SC that commenced the proceedings at 1pm and took two breaks finally decided at 9:15pm to reject the ruling allies’ request for formation of full court to hear the case, with the direction that the detailed reasons would be issued later as the court had heard arguments on merits as well.

Senior counsel Salahuddin Ahmed, who represented PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, argued during the hearing that since everyone had seen the wonders of the Sharifs of Model Town and the glorious past of the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, heavens would not fall if Mr Elahi or Mr Hamza became the Punjab CM. “But heavens will definitely fall if a large section of people takes away the impression that all the cases of political import are heard and decided by only a few members of the bench,” he added.

He said Mr Shujaat, being head of the PML-Q, had granted party tickets to all the 10 PML-Q lawmakers. He was of the opinion that in this polarized political matter, this would not be appropriate that the decision as to who would sit at CM office rested entirely on the three judges especially when earlier an eight-member bench in 2015 had already discussed the importance of the party head.

“It would be better to rely on the collective wisdom of the court. Especially when there were fissures and divisions, then collective authority of the apex court was better on polarized disputes.”

Justice Munib Akhtar, however, observed that the judges in a larger bench could also differ, emphasizing that chief justice was always the master of the roster.

Chief Justice Bandial while highlighting a different dimension of the polarized political environment remarked it was sad that such environment existed. Therefore, it was important to resolve these issues “expeditiously” so that the governments and the constitutional machinery could function smoothly, he added.

“We see crisis brewing and festering since April and after four months, do the counsel still want this environment of conflict to continue,” the CJP wondered, also highlighting that the full court would mean resumption of the case hearing not before September due to unavailability of judges amid current vacation.

“But we can’t allow such state of affairs to drag and prolong,” Justice Bandial said. The Supreme Court had already made an opinion on the presidential reference on Article 63A of the constitution, which was binding, he remarked.

The approach the PDM lawyers had taken was the prolongation or deferring of the matter when such important matter should not be deferred especially when the current economic condition made everyone concerned and the foreign exchange was falling. “Do you think it is because of our [court] intervention or due to the political intervention?” CJP questioned the counsel representing the ruling alliance.

He observed that a party with majority votes of 186 was sitting outside the assembly and the one with a minority vote of 179 was the chief minister. The CJP noted, “We want a solid footing to protect the current chief minister and that the affairs of the state must carry on and propriety demands that we should not give more time.”

Mr Ahmed, the counsel for PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat, however, apprised the court that they were not interested in prolonging the matter. He contended that he would be filing documents to show that the letter by his client was issued not only to the deputy speaker but also party lawmakers and even the latter came to see his client after the issuance of the letter.

While questioning if a decision taken by the legislature could come before the apex court, Farooq H. Naek the counsel for the PPP earlier requested the court to adjourn the matter until Thursday so that all the counsel representing different parties could come prepared.

The CJP, however, explained that “unconstitutional decisions” would definitely come before the apex court for verdict.

Irfan Qadir, who appeared on behalf of the Punjab Assembly deputy speaker, contended that the court should “not show haste in deciding the matter” and all judges should come on one page rather than a smaller bench deciding the matter. The counsel argued that too much hair splitting would create an impression of bias. He said he was not criticising the court rather laying emphasis on the legitimacy of the institutions.

Referring to the May 17 opinion of the court on Article 63A, he said it had held in clear terms that in case of any dispute, the fundamental rights of the party head would prevail than the members.

He also apprised the court that he would need further instructions from his client since his brief concern was only the request for the formation of the full court to hear the matter of national importance.

Mansoor Usman Awam, on behalf of Mr Hamza, also sought time for instructions to argue the matter on merits. Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar as well as PML-N prayed for the full court emphasizing that the points raised in the review petition by the Supreme Court Bar Association was very pivotal and should be decided along with the present case, because if it was accepted, the present case decision could be reversed.

The law minister said they were sitting in a coalition government and wanted to go back and seek instructions.

Earlier, former SCBA presidents, led by Latif Afridi, said the crisis had deepened and requested the apex court to constitute a full court to avert further deterioration of the situation. Hearing by the full court would save the system and the present crisis would be averted, the senior lawyers believed.

Advocate Ali Zafar, who represented Mr Elahi, said his client had complete faith in the court. He reminded the court that 15 such requests for full court formation had been rejected previously and only three to four times, a full court had been formed during the past 25 years.

Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2022

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