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Pak SC rejects govt’s request for full court bench on CM petitions

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Supreme Court on Monday rejected the coalition government’s request to form a full court bench on petitions related to the recently held Punjab chief minister’s re-election — including a review of its interpretation of Article 63-A.

The verdict was announced after a marathon hearing that began at 1pm and lasted more than eight hours, during which time a three-member bench comprising Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar heard the arguments of government and its allies’ counsels.

The request for the full bench was made by the government during the hearing of a petition filed by PML-Q leader Chaudhry Parvez Elahi challenging Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Dost Mohammad Mazari’s decision in the chief minister’s re-election last week, which led to Hamza Shehbaz’s victory.

During the re-election, Mazari had decided against counting the votes of 10 PML-Q lawmakers, which were cast in Elahi’s favour, citing a letter written by PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain in which he had instructed them to vote for Hamza instead.

Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial

During the previous hearing on Saturday, they had allowed Hamza — who was re-elected on July 22 — to remain “trustee” chief minister till Monday (yesterday).

According to the brief verdict, the same three-member bench — headed by Chief of Pakistan Justice Umar Ata Bandial, and comprising Justice Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar — will hear the petition filed by the PTI. Following the decision, the country’s top court decided to adjourn the hearing on the ruling till 11:30am tomorrow (Tuesday).

CJP Bandial said that the court needs more legal clarification regarding the formation of a full bench to issue a verdict on the case as the Supreme Court resumed the hearing for the case of the Punjab chief minister’s election.

After an hours-long hearing that began at 1pm, when the court took a break to deliberate and subsequently resumed, it was anticipated that a decision on the request for full bench would be announced. However, that was not the case as the CJP remarked: “We have to see the Constitution [further].”

“Article 63-A has a long journey,” he added.

Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar told the bench that arguments on Article 63-A’s review had still not begun. “This is a grave matter. This is a province of 12 million [people].”

The chief justice reminded the law minister that it was a five-member bench that had “sent the [previous] prime minister home”, referring to the court’s unanimous verdict in March that had restored the National Assembly as well as the no-trust move against Imran Khan, which eventually led to his ouster.

With the federal government, in its statements outside the court, threatening to boycott the case if a full bench was not formed, the chief justice said: “If the incumbent government is not accepting the Supreme Court’s [supremacy] then it is a grave [concern].”

The minister said that forming a full court would increase the judicial credibility of the court.

Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari’s lawyer Irfan Qadir referred to Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s case, which he said was heard by 10 judges. “That was the matter of a judge. This is the matter of an entire province.”

“I am not saying that the [bench’s] neutrality is in question,” he clarified, adding that if a full court was constituted, “the respect and confidence in court” would increase.

“There is an impression that [certain] cases go to the same bench,” he added.

“A full court bench is constituted in serious matters,” the top judge replied.

At one point, the CJP remarked that there was no need to prolong the case. “In our view, the deputy speaker has violated Article 95.”

Mazari’s lawyer argued that the Supreme Court Bar Association’s (SCBA) petition on Article 63-A’s review could not be separated from the re-election case.

He reasoned that if the court ruled that the votes of dissidents lawmakers would be counted, the matter would get even worse.

“Along with the politicians, the judiciary should also be united in its decisions,” he pointed out, clarifying that he was not critiquing the court.

“We will all leave but the Constitution should remain supreme,” the lawyer added.

The deputy speaker’s counsel said there was a difference between the head of the party and the head of the parliamentary party.

“The party that wanted to make Parvez Elahi the chief minister used to call him a dacoit,” he said while referring to PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s remark about Elahi from years ago.

“There is an impression that the court was tilted towards those who broke the Constitution and pushed the country towards destruction,” he said.

At this, the chief justice remarked that “social media only listens to narratives, not facts”. “We gave a chance to all the parties in this case to make their arguments,” he said.