Larger Bench Of Supreme Court To Hear Lifetime Disqualification Case

Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa will head a seven-member bench which will hear the case from Tuesday

Larger Bench Of Supreme Court To Hear Lifetime Disqualification Case

The Supreme Court on Monday constituted a larger bench to hear the lifetime disqualification case.

The announcement came as candidates started filing appeals against decisions of Returning Officers on their nomination papers.

A seven-member bench of the top court is expected to take up the issue of lifetime disqualification on January 2 (Tuesday). Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa will head the larger bench. Other bench members include Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Yahya Afridi, Justice Aminuddin Khan, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Justice Musarrat Hilali.

The larger bench was constituted by the three-member bench deciding committee of the top court, comprising Chief Justice Isa, Senior Puisne Justice Sardar Tariq Masood and the second senior-most judge, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, under Section 2(1)  of the Supreme Court Practice and Procedure Act 2023.

The larger bench is expected to take a closer look at and resolve discrepancies in the timeframe of lifetime disqualification. The top court is expected to determine, once and for all, whether the top court’s judgment declaring disqualification under Article 62(1)(f) for life would prevail or the latest amendments in the Election Act 2017.

The retrospective application of the amendment will also be called into question and is expected to be considered by the bench.

In June 2023, the Parliament, through Section 232 of the Election Act (Amendment) Bill, set the timeframe of disqualification under Article 62(1)(f) to five years and not for a lifetime.

The amendment regarding disqualification in the Election Act has never been challenged before any court since its introduction and passage. 

Any verdict from the seven-judge larger bench is likely to determine the political fate of two major politicians, including the deposed prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif and Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party’s (IPP) Chairman Jahangir Khan Tareen and whether they can take part in electoral and parliamentary politics after spending five years in the cold after conviction. 

In 2018, a five-member bench of the top court headed by then chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, ex-CJP Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ahsan and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah rendered an interpretation of Article 62(1)(f) had ruled that the ineligibility under the said Article of the Constitution would be for life. 

The matter regarding electoral disqualification was raised before the apex court last month when a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Isa was hearing an election dispute filed by Sardar Imam Qaisarani.

At the end of the hearing, the chief justice referred the matter to the three-judge committee to form a larger bench to adjudicate further legal questions. The bench had also ordered the publication of a public notice so that anyone or any political party could become a part of the case, if they so desired.

The bench had issued notices to the Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan, provincial advocate generals, and the Election Commission of Pakistan.

The bench had, however, clarified that this case before the top court should not be used as a pretext or a tool to delay the elections. 

However, during the hearing, the chief justice had observed that the top court’s verdict on the disqualification for life and the amendments to the Election Act could not exist concurrently.

The writer is an Islamabad based journalist working with The Friday Times. He tweets @SabihUlHussnain