The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday declared the acceptance of PTI lawmakers’ resignations by National Assembly’s former acting speaker Qasim Khan Suri as unconstitutional.
The court issued the orders while hearing a petition filed by PTI challenging the allegedly piece-meal acceptance of resignations by incumbent NA Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah also rejected a plea by PTI counsel Faisal Chaudhry to process the case before a larger bench for hearing.
All the PTI lawmakers had resigned en masse on April 11, two days after former prime minister Imran Khan was ousted from the top office after the no-confidence motion moved by the joint opposition in the parliament against him succeeded.
Former deputy speaker and acting speaker of the lower house of the parliament Suri had on April 15 accepted the resignations of 123 PTI lawmakers.
Later in April, Ashraf decided to verify the resignations of the 123 PTI lawmakers, by calling them individually or in small groups as some two dozen MNAs belonging to the formerly ruling party approached him seeking a meeting to clarify their stance, according to a report in Dawn.
Sources in the NA Secretariat had confirmed that a majority of the resignations submitted by the PTI MNAs were not handwritten and had a similar text printed on the PTI’s letterhead. They said the secretariat staff also had doubts over the signatures of some members as these were not matching with those on the assembly’s roll.
According to the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the National Assembly, 2007, a member may “by writing under his hand addressed to the speaker resign his seat”.
In 2020, when PTI was in power, former minister Sheikh Rashid had said that printed resignations held no legal value when PDM was threatening en masse resignations.
On July 27, the NA speaker accepted the resignations of 11 lawmakers of the party.
Ali Muhammad Khan, Fazal Muhammad Khan, Shaukat Ali, Fakhar Zaman Khan, Farrukh Habib, Jamil Ahmed Khan, Muhammad Akram Cheema, Abdul Shakoor Shad, Dr Shireen Mazari, Shandana Gulzar Khan and Ijaz Ahmed Shah are the MNAs who have been denotified from their seats.
Subsequently, the party approached IHC earlier this week seeking approval for all the PTI’s MNAs’ resignations and their denotification.
During the hearing today, the PTI counsel expressed a lack of confidence in the incumbent NA speaker, saying “the speaker’s role is quite dubious.”
Justice Minallah objected to the statement, reminding him he could not utter such remarks against the speaker.
“I take back my words,” Faisal Chaudhry responded.
The court told the PTI lawyer that their lawmakers should have appeared before the House custodian and confirmed resignations in person if they had received letters from the speaker’s office.
“The 11 MNAs whose resignations had been accepted did not visit the speaker and hence 112 others followed suit,” the counsel replied to the judge.
The court said the legislators could still visit the speaker’s office and verify their resignations.
The PTI counsel argued that the decision for acceptance of resignations of 11 MNAs must be annulled. “Why are the elections being held on a ‘pick-and-choose’ basis,” he asked.
The court, however, rejected the PTI plea against the phase-wise acceptance of resignations.
Justice Minallah observed that the deputy speaker had no right to accept the resignations.
The judge maintained that all members who had resigned must have visited the speaker in person for the verification of their resignations.
He said “this court will not issue orders to the speaker of the assembly,” adding that “what the deputy speaker [Suri] did was against the law.”
The PTI counsel said he wanted to furnish arguments on the Supreme Court’s verdict in connection to the case.
“This court gives you this opinion that you should go to the Supreme Court,” the IHC CJ responded.
He said the court respects the elected representatives of the public.
After hearing the arguments from both sides, Justice Minallah dismissed the petition.
The PTI had filed a petition on Aug 1, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, stating that after the ‘regime change operation’, PTI leadership decided to tender resignation from the National Assembly since it was seeking a “fresh mandate” from the people of Pakistan.
It had said that pursuant to the decision of a meeting of the Parliamentary Party held in the Parliament House on April 11, 123 MNAs tendered resignations which were accepted by the deputy speaker.
However, the newly-elected Speaker Ashraf withheld these resignations and did not forward them to the ECP on the pretext of “so-called verification of the resignation”.
“Now after the lapse of around three and a half months, NA Speaker approved resignations of only 11 MNAs of the PTI” and forwarded them to the ECP which has denotified the lawmakers, the petition had argued.
“The impugned act of the so-called verification of resignation of PTI MNAs conducted by the present speaker of the National Assembly and his purported approval of the resignations and forwarding the same to the ECP in a piecemeal manner, despite the fact that all the 123 resignations of the PTI MNA s had already been accepted on April 11 by the then speaker, as well as the impugned act of the ECP to denotify the PTI Members in the piecemeal manner, are unsustainable,” the petition had added.
It requested the court to direct the Speaker NA to accord approval to all the PTI’s MNAs resignations.
The petition had further requested that the direction be given to the ECP to de-notify these members en masse.