ISLAMABAD: As the Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the Election Commission of Pakistan to go ahead with contempt proceedings against PTI Chairman Imran Khan and other party leaders, the ECP warned them their arrest warrants would be out if they failed to show up at next hearing on Jan 17.

“We hold that the petitioner ECP may continue its proceedings in accordance with law including, by decision on the objections (challenging competence of the commission to issue contempt notices) raised on behalf of the respondents (PTI leaders),” Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial stated in a four-page order on a set of ECP petitions.

The petitions seeking consolidation and transfer of all six challenges to the contempt notice of ECP against PTI leaders was heard by a three-member SC bench. Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Ayesha A. Malik were part of the bench.

The petitions were moved by Advocate Sajeel Sheryar Swati on behalf of ECP with a plea to order consolidation of all the six petitions before one high court instead of defending the commission’s stance for issuance of the contempt charges against PTI leaders in different high courts.

The commission had issued notices to Mr Khan, PTI Secretary General Asad Umar, Fawad Chaudhry, Mian Shabbir Ismail and Danial Khalid Khokhar in August and September last year to appear in person or through their counsel before it to explain their position on contempt for allegedly using ‘intemperate’ language against the chief election commissioner.

However, they moved Lahore High Court’s Rawalpindi bench, Sindh High Court and Islamabad High Court against the ECP power to issue the contempt notices and proceed under Section 10 of the Elections Act, 2017.

SC accepts ECP plea for ‘expeditious’ disposal of cases by high courts

Section 10 of the Elections Act 2017 empowers ECP to exercise the same power as enjoyed by a high court to punish any individual for contempt of court under the Contempt of Court Ordinance, 2003.

In its order, the apex court held that since the objections to ECP authority were raised by the respondents in the pending proceedings under Section 10, the same were required to be considered and decided by ECP before passing a final order on the matter.

Regarding ECP’s request to club together all petitions pending against it before the high courts, the apex court accepted the ECP plea that it would be satisfied if the high courts were directed to decide the pending petitions at the earliest.

Contempt proceedings

While giving them last chance to appear, the ECP adjourned the contempt proceedings against Mr Khan, Asad Umar and Fawad Chaudhry, albeit with the warning that their absence before the commission at the next hearing on January 17 would result in issuance of arrest warrants.

The PTI leaders were directed to submit their reply to show-cause notices by the next hearing.

During the hearing, ECP member Akramullah Khan remarked why the ECP should not issue arrest warrants for the PTI leaders. To which, lawyer Ali Bokhari asked the ECP to issue notice instead of warrants, as Mr Khan was unable to appear before the commission due to his health condition.

He said Fawad Chaudhry sought exemption from appearance, because his mother was hospitalized whereas Asad Umar missed his flight.

The bench asked the PTI counsel to submit Imran Khan’s medical certificate and also submit an answer to show-cause notice.

ECP member Nisar Durrani warned that arrest warrants would be issued if they failed to show up at the next hearing. He reminded the lawyer that Asad Umar had not appeared before the commission for the past four months.

The case was initiated against the PTI chairman and its leaders for using ‘intemperate’ language against the ECP and the Chief Election Commissioner.

Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2023

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