ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC) has taken notice of the discrepancy between the judicial decision on lifetime disqualification under Article 62(1)(f) and the amendments introduced to the Elections Act.
The top court has scheduled a hearing for January 2024 and referred the matter, which concerns determining the period for disqualification, to the judges’ committee for the formation of a bench.
Notices have been issued to the Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan, advocate generals of all provinces, and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to provide assistance to the SC.
The SC’s notice is in response to a petition filed by a former MPA of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), Shamona Badshah Qaisrani, who was disqualified in 2007 due to a fake degree. Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa, during the hearing, remarked that the Supreme Court’s verdict on lifetime disqualification and the amendments made to the Elections Act, 2017, cannot coexist.
The chief justice expressed concern that discrepancies in interpretation could lead to confusion in the general elections of 2024.
CJP Isa questioned why the petitioner was disqualified, to which Advocate Saqib Jilani replied that Qaisrani was disqualified under Article 62(1)(f) based on a fake degree in 2007.
However, the Lahore High Court in 2018 had granted the former lawmaker permission to contest polls. Justice Athar Minallah raised the issue of the case’s connection to the 2018 elections and asked if it was still relevant to the upcoming polls. Jilani argued that the current case would impact the upcoming elections as well.
The discussion touched upon the issue of whether lifetime disqualification should continue after a person’s sentence ends. The lawyer pointed out that a person should be disqualified for submitting false affidavits, referencing the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Panama Papers case on the interpretation of Article 61(1)(f). CJP Faez inquired about any recent law amendments related to Article 62(1)(f) and lifetime disqualification, to which the lawyer mentioned the recent amendment to the Elections Act, limiting disqualification to five years.
Justice Minallah noted that the SC’s verdict on lifetime disqualification became ineffective after the Elections Act amendments. Justice Isa expressed concern about potential confusion between the SC’s 2018 verdict and the Election Act amendments during the upcoming elections, emphasizing the need for clarity. Justice Minallah assured that there was no uncertainty regarding the next elections and warned against attempts to create confusion. The court stressed that the matter should not be used to delay the February 8, 2024 polls and called for notices regarding the case to be published in two mainstream English dailies.
To provide context, in 2018, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that disqualification under Article 62(1)(f) is for life. The article sets the precondition for a member of parliament to be ‘sadiq and ameen’ (honest and righteous). Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and PTI leader Imran Khan were among those disqualified under this article. However, a June amendment to the Elections Act 2017 limited lawmaker disqualification to five years.