ISLAMABAD: Referring to the scathing criticism of the judiciary by the deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif and other ruling party members, the Supreme Court judge Justice Ijazul Ahsan has observed that attacking the courts is tantamount to subverting the Constitution.
Justice Ahsan, who is part of a three-judge bench, headed by Chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar, made this remark on Thursday during a hearing of major political parties’ petitions against the Election Act 2017.
The apex court on January 1 declared as maintainable the petitions challenging the act, a part of which has paved the way for the deposed premier Nawaz Sharif to head his party after his disqualification on July 28, 2017, in the Panama Papers case.
The bench has been considering consequences of the anti-judiciary remarks by Sharif, whose party portfolio is under scrutiny in this case in view of the Panama judgment.
During hearings of the case, it has been the bench’s consistent view that abusing the judiciary means disloyalty with the state in view of Article 5 of the Constitution. The judges are also considering whether the person, who is ridiculing the judiciary, can work as party head.
On February 7, the CJP, referring to Article 5 of the Constitution, observed that ridiculing the judiciary is like disobeying the Constitution of Pakistan.
“Loyalty to the state means loyalty to its basic organs including the judiciary. Likewise, breaching of loyalty with state institutions will be disobedience to the Constitution,” the CJP had said.
On Thursday, the bench noted that if someone is doing contempt of court then he is disobeying the Constitution. The chief justice said the Article 204, which deals contempt issues, can be read with Article 5, which bounds the citizens to remain loyal to the state.
He said if a person is convicted in a contempt case then he will be considered as disloyal to the state.
He also observed that everything revolves around Nawaz Sharif as the incumbent PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is calling him as his prime minister, adding that the court will examine what status and values a party head have and what kind of pressure comes from party head.
“We have to draw the lines so that a looter could not become party head. God forbid if a crook becomes a party head,” he added.
However, Salman Akram Raja, counsel for the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) said one could trust the people of Pakistan as they know who is eligible for this position.
Justice Ahsan said a party head has a direct connection with members of the parliament and if a disqualified person heads a party then that disqualified person can also control the lawmakers. “If the party head is polluted then whole scheme is polluted,” he noted.
“We are the custodians of the Constitution and the citizens’ rights. In my personal view attacking the court is a subversion of the constitution,” he said, adding: “The court has to enface the Constitution in letter and spirit as Articles 62 and 63 cannot be overlooked.”
When the PML-N counsel referred to several countries where the precedents were set to allow a convicted person take part in the politics, Justice Ahsan asked which country’s Constitution allows a convicted person to become party head.
When the bench asked whether a convicted person can run the party from the jails, Salman Akram Raja said there are a number of countries where people who were involved in heinous crimes became office bearers of a party.
The counsel also referred the example of South Africa’s former president Nelson Mandela, who looked after the party affairs from jail. He also requested the bench to consider the South African constitution to examine this aspect.
Raja also rejected the petitioners’ contention that it is a person-specific legislation and claimed that all major parties had agreed in the amendment according to the Election Reforms Committee bill, which was prepared in December 2016.
The counsel said it is the parliament, which can undo such legislation. Likewise, the Article 5 has no penal consequences. However, the chief justice told him that they will not enforce Article 6 on his client.
Regarding issuance of tickets in Senate election, Raja said it was a past and closed transaction and people of Pakistan should not be defeated by nullifying the section 203 of Election Act and halting the process of Senate election.
“The people of Pakistan should be trusted for choosing their party head,” Raja said as he concluded his s arguments. Attorney General for Pakistan Ashtar Ausaf Ali will assist the court in the next week.