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ISLAMABAD, Feb 25: The Supreme Court on Wednesday disqualified Sharif brothers from holding any public office and contesting election.

Consequently, Shahbaz Sharif lost the office of chief minister of Punjab and elder brother Nawaz Sharif is barred from contesting elections.

“For the reasons to be recorded later, the judgments/orders dated June 23, 2008, Lahore High Court in writ petitions Nos. 6468/2008 (Noor Ellahi versus Nawaz Sharif) and 6469/2008 (Syed Khurram Shah versus Nawaz Sharif) are upheld. No ground for leave is made out. These petitions are accordingly dismissed,” said a short order by a Supreme Court bench comprising Justice Mohammad Moosa K. Leghari, Justice Syed Sakhi Hussain Bukhari and Justice Sheikh Hakim Ali.

The bench gave the verdict after hearing appeals by the federal government against the LHC order of disqualifying former prime minister and PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif from contesting a by-election because of conviction in the 1999 plane hijacking conspiracy case.

About the Punjab chief minister, a separate order of the Supreme Court converted the petitions of Syed Khurram Shah into appeal and declared that Shahbaz Sharif was not qualified to be elected or chosen a member of the provincial assembly from PP-48 Bhakkar-II.

It also declared null and void the June 3, 2008, notification of the Election Commission in favour of Shahbaz Sharif and ordered the EC to de-notify his membership.

The court dismissed the petitions with cost. Petitioners Mehr Zafar Iqbal and Shakeel Baig, proposer and seconder of Sharif brothers, respectively, were ordered to deposit Rs100,000 each in the court within 15 days or face a jail term of three months.

The decision followed a spate of allegations levelled by PML-N leadership that President Asif Ali Zardari was “hell-bent on getting Sharif brothers disqualified from the PCO judiciary”.Police contingents were deployed around the Supreme Court and the presence of security personnel in plain clothes was felt inside the courtroom.

Advocate Ashtar Ausaf, representing the Punjab Assembly speaker, told the media that although the decision of the apex court was final, a petition seeking review was possible.

Advocate Mobeenuddin Qazi, counsel for Noor Ellahi, appreciated the judgment and said that it was in accordance with the Constitution and the court had established that everybody was equal before the law.

Minutes before the announcement of the short order, the temperature surged in the courtroom when Mehr Zafar Iqbal’s counsel, Advocate Akram Sheikh, sensing the mood of the bench, said that judges would have to justify their judgments on the “Day of Judgment” and that he had knocked at the doors of temple of justice.

“No, you have not knocked at the doors of temple of justice and why are you bent upon creating a situation which we do not want to,” Justice Leghari observed, adding the counsel had not maintained the decorum.

The counsel, however, accused the court of allowing the other side to insult Sharif brothers by saying that they had a defect in their bloodline.

The counsel also insisted that the bench should not proceed further without deciding the applications in which a request was made that the judges should recuse themselves and form a larger bench comprising “pre-emergency judges”.

He also criticised Attorney General Latif Khosa for advancing arguments at variance with the appeals of the federal government.

The bench clarified that the counsel had been told well in advance that the court would decide the application for recusal as well as the merits of the case together. The counsel were also given a patient hearing and all the parties were heard at length, it added.

Meanwhile, trial observers appointed by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency said in their report that the Supreme Court’s short order had negated the age-old maxim that justice should not only be done but should also be seen to have been done.

APP adds: The SC bench was hearing a set of pleas pertaining to electoral eligibility of Sharif brothers and an application seeking formation of a larger bench consisting of the deposed judges of the apex court.

“All the petitions stand dismissed except an appeal filed by Syed Khurram Shah,” Justice Moosa K. Leghari, who headed the bench, said in the short order.

On June 23 last year, a full bench of the Lahore High Court had disqualified PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif from contesting elections. However, the court had conditionally allowed PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif to hold office of the chief executive of Punjab.

On June 26, the SC stayed the by-election in NA-123 (Lahore) till a final decision on the government’s petitions against the LHC order.

The court had also restrained the election tribunal from adjudicating upon the plea seeking disqualification of Shahbaz Sharif pending a decision by it.

Syed Khurram Shah, a rival candidate of Shahbaz Sharif, had filed the petition in the Supreme Court seeking his disqualification. He had contended that Shahbaz Sharif was a defaulter of various financial institutions and committed contempt of court by storming the apex court in 1997.

In his appeal Syed Khurram Shah urged the apex court to nullify the June 3 notification of Election Commission declaring Shahbaz Sharif the winner in PP-48, Bhakkar.

After the short verdict of Supreme Court, Shahbaz Sharif has lost his Bhakkar seat and is no longer a member of the Punjab Assembly. Consequently, he is no more the chief minister of Punjab as the Supreme Court annulled the earlier notification about his being the chief executive of the province.

The Federation had filed appeals in the apex court against the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif, challenging the LHC’s June 24 order to set up an election tribunal to decide the eligibility of Shahbaz Sharif.

The appeals were filed under Article 185(3) of the Constitution, making Shahbaz Sharif, the returning officer in PP-48, Bhakkar-II, the election appellate tribunal, the LHC, the Chief Election Commissioner and Syed Khurram Shah as respondents.

It had prayed the apex court to restrain the learned CEC from referring the matter of eligibility of Shahbaz Sharif to the election tribunal till the disposal of the government’s appeal.

Earlier, Attorney General Latif Khosa submitted that proposer and seconder of Nawaz Sharif could become parties in the case if the court permitted them and their becoming parties was not necessary.

He contended that it was the discretion of a judge to withdraw from the bench and no one could order him to pull out.

A group of pro-Nawaz lawyers had filed an application in the apex court requesting constitution of a bench comprising judges who did not take oath under the Provisional Constitution Order.

The attorney general further submitted that the Punjab chief secretary and the assembly speaker were not party to the case. He said that all the judges had taken oath under the Constitution and talking about an “interim Constitution” was irrelevant.

Advocate Akram Sheikh, however, objected to the arguments of the attorney general and submitted that his submission was in conflict with Article 100 of the Constitution. He further contended that although he was the principal officer of the federation, the AG had taken a position totally contrary to the federation’s as well.

At this Justice Moosa Leghari advised the learned counsel that he was not supposed to say anything about the role of the attorney general.