In a 6-1 majority verdict, the Supreme Court on Monday quashed lifetime disqualification for lawmakers under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution, which effectively rendered PML-N’s Nawaz Sharif and Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party’s Jahangir Tareen free to contest the upcoming general elections.
The apex court overruled its own 2018 judgment in the Samiullah Baloch case, when it had ruled that disqualification handed down under Article 62(1)(f) was supposed to be “permanent”.
Justice Yahya Afridi dissented from the verdict.
Key takeaways from today’s verdict:
- 6 to 1 majority deems Article 62(1)(f) non-self-executing without specific disqualification procedures
- Lifetime disqualification interpretation exceeds article’s scope, violates fundamental rights
- Acknowledges Elections (Amendment) Act 2023, setting 5-year disqualification period
- Nawaz, Tareen cleared to stand in elections
On Friday, a seven-member larger bench, headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa and comprising Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Afridi, Justice Aminuddin Khan, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Justice Musarrat Hilali, had reserved the verdict on the contentious issue of lawmakers’ lifetime disqualification.
The legal conundrum arose in view of the SC’s 2018 verdict issued by former chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, ex-CJP Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah. However, in June 2023, an amendment was brought in the Elections Act 2017, specifying that the period of electoral disqualification would be for five years, not for life.
In a short order issued today, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the apex court said: “Article 62(1)(f) is not a self-executory provision as it does not by itself specify the court of law that is to make the declaration mentioned therein nor does it provide for any procedure for making, and any period for disqualification incurred by, such declaration.”
“There is no law that provides for the procedure, process and the identification of the court of law for making the declaration mentioned in Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution and the duration of such a declaration, for the purpose of disqualification thereunder, to meet the requirements of the fundamental right to a fair trial and due process guaranteed by Article 10A of the Constitution,” it stated.
The court said the “interpretation of Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution in imposing a lifetime disqualification upon a person through an implied declaration of a court of civil jurisdiction while adjudicating upon some civil rights and obligations of the parties is beyond the scope of the said Article and amounts to reading into the Constitution”.
“Such reading into the Constitution is also against the principle of harmonious interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution as it abridges the Fundamental Right of citizens to contest elections and vote for a candidate of their choice enshrined in Article 17 of the Constitution, in the absence of reasonable restrictions imposed by law,” it added.
The court further ruled that until a law was enacted to make its provision executory, Article 62(1)(f) stood on a similar footing as Article 62(1)(d)(e)(g) — which talks about the qualification of a lawmaker — and served as a guideline for voters in exercising their right to vote.
“The view taken in Sami Ullah Baloch v Abdul Karim Nausherwani (PLD 2018 SC 405) treating the declaration made by a court of civil jurisdiction regarding breach of certain civil rights and obligations as a declaration mentioned in Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution and making such declaration to have a lifelong disqualifying effect amounts to reading into the Constitution and is therefore overruled ,” the SC added.
It further noted that the recent amendments to the Elections Act prescribed five years for the disqualification incurred by any judgment, order or decree of any court in terms of Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution and had also made such declaration subject to the due process of law.
“This provision is already in field, and there remains no need to examine its validity and scope in the present case,” the top court ruled.
Justice Afridi says 2018 judgment ‘legally valid’
In his dissent note, Justice Afridi said he disagreed with his fellow judges.
He noted that the extent of lack of qualification of a member of the Parliament, as envisaged under Article 62(1)(f) was “neither lifelong nor permanent and the same shall remain effective only during the period the declaration so made by a court of law remains in force”.
“Therefore, the conclusion so drawn by this court in Sami Ullah Baloch Versus Abdul Karim Nousherwani (PLD 2018 SC 405) is legally valid, hence affirmed,” Justice Afridi added.
PML-N, IPP laud ‘landmark’ verdict
In a post on X (formerly Twitter), PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif termed today’s verdict “historic” and said the conspiracy to disqualify Nawaz for life through “arbitrary interpretation of the Constitution” had died.
“There is no longer any legal obstacle in the way of Nawaz Sharif to participate in the elections,” he asserted. Shehbaz added that if the PML-N supremo was given another chance, he would take the country on a path of development and prosperity.
Meanwhile, PML-N leader Marriyum Aurangzeb said a “dark chapter” had come to an end, alleging that the lifelong disqualification was aimed at making Nawaz a target of political revenge.
She said the interpretation of Article 62(1)(f) had pushed Pakistan and the public into the swamp of inflation, economic destruction and international disgrace.
Separately, the party itself said today’s verdict was not just a victory for Nawaz but “this is a victory for truth and Pakistan’s history”.
Speaking to Geo News, PML-N Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar praised the verdict as a “timely decision” that helped clarify the confusion of returning officers.
“They [SC] did not change the law, they made a correction in the Samiullah Baloch case.
“In fact, the SCBA [Supreme Court Bar Association] and Pakistan Bar Council had criticised this and requested the SC to review this again. So it’s good that all cases were brought together and a larger bench reviewed this and, in my opinion, ended this injustice,” he stressed.
Tarar added that the court’s decision could not impact that which was written into the law as a fundamental right.
On the other hand, Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party spokesperson Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said the apex court had given a “landmark judgement” and removed “thorns laid down in democratic corridors”.
“It is a fundamental democratic right of political representatives to reach the floor of Parliament,” she said, adding that the IPP welcomed the “exemplary decision”.
Commenting on the verdict in an interview on ARY News programme ‘Off The Record’, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said only legal experts could tell if the PML-N supremo was qualified to contest polls or not.
At the same time, he did say the decision was a “good development” for the country’s democracy and politics in the long run.