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SC reserves verdict on petitions seeking fixed time-period of public office disqualification

ISLAMABAD: A five-judge larger bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, on Wednesday reserved its judgment on petitions seeking a fixed time-period of the parliamentarians’ disqualification under Article 62(1)(f) of the constitution.

At the outset of the court proceedings, Attorney General (AG) Ashtar Ausaf Ali appeared before the court today and presented his arguments.

He contended that it is the sole responsibility of the parliament to determine the time duration of disqualification under the aforementioned article.

At which, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed remarked that the time period of disqualification was not defined in the constitution.

“Would it be a life-time disqualification or for one election term,” Justice Saeed inquired.

To which, AG Ashtar Ausaf Ali said it is not definable in the constitution with regard to disqualification time period under the specified article.

After conclusion of the arguments of the top government lawyer, the bench reserved its verdict on the petitions filed by numerous disqualified lawmakers.

In the hearing on Monday, Justice Saqib Nisar expressed displeasure over absence of AG Ashtar Ausaf Ali and imposed a fine of Rs 20,000 for not turning up at the court.

The Additional Attorney General (AAG) had informed the bench that the AG was out of city and would submit a response in writing.

The CJP then inquired as how he could go out of the city without the court’s permission, while expressing his displeasure over the AG’s conduct.

The AAG then told the bench that the attorney general was in Lahore to attend the last rites of Asma Jahangir, besides he had to travel abroad on Tuesday.

However, the AG has now rescheduled his trip and will be leaving for London on Saturday.

Disqualification duration should be determined on case to case: Asma Jahangir

During a previous hearing of the case the CJP ruled that the Supreme Court of Pakistan would determine the time-period of parliamentarians’ disqualification.

During the proceedings, PTI’s disqualified MNA Rai Hassan Nawaz’s counsel late Asma Jahangir presented her arguments and asserted that the Article 62(1)(f) of the constitution is ambiguous as it is difficult to determine the honesty and trustworthiness of an individual.

She then said the aforementioned article also did not state as which court is to issue declaration with regard to a person’s conduct and eligibility.

“The voters do not bring the questions of eligibility and qualification before casting their votes to an individual,” she asserted.

Jahangir contended that the interpretation of ‘Pakistan’s ideology’ was a complex task with several ambiguities, besides it was the sole responsibility of the parliament to deliberate on political matters rather than any other state institution.

To which, Justice Umar Ata Bandial said the court couldn’t resolve questions merely based on assumptions.

Following the judge’s remarks, Jahangir asserted that fundamental rights to citizens are prime organ of the constitution. She then claimed that the parliament is not an independent body, the CJP disagreed and remarked that the notion was incorrect.

The CJP, however, conceded the existence of ambiguities in Article 62(1)(f) of the constitution. “It will be a difficult task to interpret the article,” he remarked.

On which, Justice Ijazul Ahsan suggested that the standards of ‘ideal persons’ [lawmakers] should be raised, while Justice Sajjad Ali proposed different set of standards for the lawmakers and an ordinary person.

Jahangir then argued that nobody was declared eligible and ineligible for holding a public office before 1985. “Such ‘high-standard’ persons are unavailable in the country,” she responded.

The Chief Justice then inquired whether a dishonest person could contest by-election and for how long he or she should be declared disqualified.

Jahangir responded that the disqualification sentence should be varied case to case and maximum period should be five years.

At which, the CJP ruled that it was the sole obligation of the top court to determine the duration of the disqualification period of a public representative.

Matter of immense significance

The matter has attained immense significance in the backdrop of the disqualifications of the thrice-elected premier Nawaz Sharif and the central PTI leader Jahangir Tareen because its outcome will decide their political future.

It will also put the controversy surrounding the period for disqualification of a member of parliament to rest once and for all.

Nawaz Sharif and Jahangir Tareen were disqualified under the Article 62(1)(f) for lifetime for being dishonest.

On July 28, last year, the apex court disqualified Sharif from office on the ground that he did not disclose a salary from his son’s Dubai-based company – the money Sharif says he never received.

On December 15, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, a three-judge bench disqualified PTI leader Tareen under Article 62 (1)(f) of the Constitution for deliberately submitting a false statement in the Supreme Court to conceal his property in the United Kingdom.

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