LAHORE: The chief justice of Lahore High Court, Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan, on Wednesday constituted six more election tribunals (ETs) for Punjab in light of an LHC judgement that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) considers ‘meaningless’ after the promulgation of an ordinance empowering it to appoint retired judges to head ETs.

“The Hon’ble Chief Justice in light of a judgement passed by this court in writ petition No.25985/24, has been pleased to constitute the following tribunals and assigned the areas to act as Election Tribunals for General Election-2024,” said a notification issued by LHC registrar Chaudhry Abdul Rashid Abid.

Besides the six new ETs, two judges working at the existing ETs in Lahore and Multan have been reassigned constituencies of neighbouring districts and tehsils.

The names of the election tribunal members along with their assigned jurisdiction at the principal seat are Justice Anwaar Hussain for Lahore; Justice Shahid Karim for Gujranwala, Gujrat, Hafizabad, Mandi Bahauddin and Narowal; and, Justice Chaudhry Mohammad Iqbal for Faisalabad, Chiniot, Toba Tek Singh, Jhang, Pakpattan, Okara, Sargodha and Khushab.

Justice Karim to hear PTI-backed independent candidate’s plea against ECP powers

Justice Mirza Viqas Rauf has been appointed to head Rawalpindi ET for hearing poll disputes related to constituencies of Jhelum, Chakwal, Attock, Mianwali, Sarai Alamgir tehsil and Rawalpindi.

At the LHC Bahawalpur bench, Justice Asim Hafeez has been appointed to head the election tribunal covering constituencies of Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar, Rahim Yar Khan and Lodhran. Justice Raheel Kamran Sheikh has been appointed to head the Multan election tribunal to hear challenges related to the constituencies of Multan, Bhakkar, Khanewal, Vehari and Sahiwal.

Re-assigned areas

Justice Sultan Tanvir and Justice Sardar Mohammad Sarfraz Dogar, working at the existing Lahore and Multan ETs, have been re-assigned jurisdiction to hear the poll disputes.

Justice Tanvir will hear challenges related to Kasur, Sheikhupura, Nankana Sahib and Sialkot constituencies, while Justice Dogar will take up matters pertaining to Dera Ghazi Khan, Layyah, Muzaffargarh and Rajanpur constituencies.

Earlier on May 29, an LHC bench comprising Justice Shahid Karim allowed two identical petitions filed by PTI-backed independent candidates Advocate Salman Akram Raja and Rao Omar Hashim Khan, who had lost their contests from Lahore (NA-128) and Pakpattan (NA-139), respectively.

In the order, Justice Karim also asked the ECP to notify within a week six more ETs for Punjab in light of the nominations sent by the LHC chief justice, otherwise it shall be deemed to have been issued and the court office shall proceed ahead and place the matters before the chief justice for assigning areas to ETs.

ECP to file appeal

A senior ECP official had previously told Dawn that LHC’s order became ‘meaningless’ after the issuance of the Elections (Amendments) Ordinance, 2024, and the verdict would be challenged in the Supreme Court.

Also, Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja while referring to the LHC order to the ECP to notify the tribunals recently stated: “Why does the law empower the ECP to appoint election tribunals? Is our role that of a mere post office?”

Commenting on the latest move by the LHC chief justice, a lawyer pointed out that since the judicial commission had already approved the elevation of Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan along with Justice Shahid Bilal Hassan to the Supreme Court, the CJ should not get involved in the decision making process such as issuing a notification about ETs. He said Justice Hassan had already abandoned judicial work after the approval of his elevation to the SC, as judges usually shun hearing cases and administrative work after being nominated for elevation to the SC so that any personal interest may not affect their decisions in future.

Challenge to ECP powers

On the other hand, Justice Karim of the LHC will take up on Thursday (today) a petition moved by Advocate Salman Akram Raja, the PTI-backed independent runner-up candidate from NA-128, against ECP’s powers to appoint ETs and transfer poll disputes from one tribunal to another.

The writ petition asks the court to declare retired judges’ appointment by the ECP to head ETs without prior consultation with the LHC CJ illegal.

Filed through Barrister Sameer Khosa, the petition assailed the vires of Section 151 of the Elections Act, 2017, empowering the ECP to transfer election petitions from one tribunal to another, and the Election (Amendments) Ordinance 2024 whereby Section 140 of the Act has been amended to empower the ECP to appoint retired judges to act as ETs.

The petition argued that the ECP powers regarding transfer of the election petitions from the tribunals were against the concept of the independence of judiciary and amounted to interference in its internal affairs.

It urged the LHC to strike down Section 151 for being unconstitutional. It argued that the creation of a parallel stream of ETs comprising ex-judges was in contravention of the established constitutional principles.

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2024

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