ISLAMABAD: Without pointing fingers at anyone, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial on Wednesday wondered what those holding protests at the Supreme Court gates on May 15 had gained, other than hampering the process of justice.
“This is not right, since dispensation of justice is the virtue of Allah Almighty and any interference entails ‘consequences’,” the CJP remarked while heading a three-judge bench that had taken up Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) review petition against the April 4 verdict of fixing May 14 as the date for holding Punjab Assembly elections.
The remarks were an indirect reference to the PDM-sponsored protests and sit-in staged on the Constitution Avenue, right in front of the apex court gates meant exclusively for the use of judges, to demand the CJP’s immediate resignation.
Justice Bandial, however, appreciated the government’s initiative of enacting the SC Review of Judgments and Orders Act, 2023 after realising that constitutional institutions should run in accordance with the law. The government’s thinking was not based on arithmetic — another indirect reference to the four-to-three-judge majority decision controversy — at present, he noted.
Bench clubs challenges to recently-passed bill on judgements with ECP review petition on Punjab polls
However, the apex court clubbed together all three challenges to the vires of the act, to be heard along with the ECP review petition on Tuesday. The counsel for the ECP, Sajeel Shaharyar Swati, later told reporters that a larger bench would assemble to take up the matter at the next hearing, since Section 3 of the act requires hearing of the review petitions by a bench larger than the one that had pronounced original judgement.
The court decided to fix both matters — the ECP review petition and challenges to the vires of the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act 2023 — on June 13, but the principle effort would be to proceed with the review petition to reach a decision.
It also issued notices to the AGP under Section 27A of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 as well as respondents for determination of the constitutional questions.
The CJP conceded that though it was not possible to reverse the clock of May 14 poll date, the deadline set certain principles of the Constitution and asked if any sanctity was attached to the constitutional requirement of holding elections within 90 days after the dissolution of the provincial assembly. How could this stipulated period of 90 days be disregarded and whether any grounds exist for the discharge of this constitutional obligation as well as what would be its consequences if done validly or invalidly, he wondered.
Justice Bandial recalled that when the court had asked for guarantee that the elections would be held on Oct 8, the ECP lawyer had replied he was ‘not sure’ about that date too.
“This is a constitutional question concerning the people of Pakistan,” the CJP observed, regretting that the incapacity of the commission to handle situations also come to the fore during the previous hearings. “The constitution is a beautiful document and we all agree to it,” he remarked.
Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2023