PTI scores first legal victory after polls

Legal experts say SC's ruling signifies triumph of rule of law, foreshadows grim implications for 'established order'

Hasnaat Malik May 07, 2024
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)


Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has clinched its first legal victory in the aftermath of the 2024 general elections as the Supreme Court grants a breather to the party by halting the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)'s move to strip 78 reserved seats from the party.

The interim order has dealt a hefty blow to the ruling government, particularly the security establishment, already under fire from the judiciary following the suo motu proceedings sparked by a letter from six judges of the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

Three high courts across the country are already acknowledging that interference from state agencies in judicial functions was an 'open secret'.
It's increasingly evident that PTI stands as the primary beneficiary amid the tensions between the judiciary and security establishment in the wake of the letter by IHC judges. Meanwhile, the IHC has decided to initiate contempt proceedings against those involved in a malicious campaign against Justice Babar Sattar. The matter will be taken up today (Tuesday).

The Lahore High Court expresses dismay over the ECP's inertia in notifying the judges designated for the election tribunals, as nominated by LHC Chief Justice Malik Shehzad Ahmed.Likewise, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa expresses dissatisfaction with the findings of the inquiry commission in the Faizabad Dharna case. He is questioning the commission's conclusions that its primary objective appeared to exonerate the former director general of ISI, Faiz Hameed.

Similarly, following a full court meeting of the Islamabad High Court, Chief Justice Aamer Farooq has taken a proactive stance. He has outlined measures, including authorising the commencement of contempt proceedings against individuals running a smear campaign against Justice Babar Sattar and his family.

A six-judge larger bench, headed by CJP Qazi Faez Isa, is set to reconvene today (Tuesday) to resume hearings on the suo motu case concerning the letter from IHC judges.

The federal government is expected to submit its response to the assertions made by the high courts regarding interference by government agencies in judicial processes. Subsequently, the judges will provide further insights into the role of these agencies, with the proceedings broadcasted on television channels.

The federal government is evidently displeased with the interim ruling issued by the three-judge panel headed by Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah concerning the reserved seats of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC).

The bench has unequivocally emphasized that a fundamental tenet of the constitution and democracy is the accurate reflection of the people's mandate within the parliament.

Read SC suspends PHC's seats allocation order

The bench further noted that it was paramount to prioritise the integrity of the elections so that the parliament remains a true reflection of the will of the people.Furthermore, the bench voiced concerns regarding the reallocation of reserved seats to other parties including PML-N and PPP.

It's noteworthy that Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, a signatory of the January 13 order, has also echoed similar views regarding the reallocation of reserved seats to the ruling parties.

‘A triumph of rule of law’

Former additional attorney general Tariq Mahmood Khokhar opined that the SC’s suspension of the Peshawar High Court (PHC) verdict on reserved seats signifies a victory for the rule of law. However, he warned that it foreshadows grim implications for the 'established order'.

"It destroys the illusion of a wilful blindness to violence against the constitution, democracy, rule of law and judicial independence; halts the corrosive effects of the PTI election symbol judgment; halts also the constitutional amendment plans under diktat proposing the continuation of the established order with its democracy, with its constitution and with its judges,” he said.

It reaffirms faith in representative democracy, repudiates the furtherance of unrepresentative legislatures and, grants relief to the PTI, he added.

According to a senior lawyer, the executive, particularly the security establishment, must reassess its approach towards the judiciary. He stressed that the judges cannot be influenced by actions that undermine their authority.He noted that many of the judges who are posing challenges to the current government were not in PTI’s good books in the past.

He further asserted that they are merely reclaiming the judiciary's rightful domain, which has allegedly been encroached upon by powerful circles through manipulation of legal processes.

However, he emphasised that their objective isn't to punish government officials but rather to safeguard the judiciary's independence and put an end to harassment and intimidation.

Tensions with judiciary

Another lawyer suggests that the government should engage with civilian leaders to devise a strategy for easing tensions with the judiciary. Presently, the security establishment finds itself caught between two fronts: PTI and the judiciary.

Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah has effectively upheld his image as a judge who stands in defence of democracy and the Constitution. He played a pivotal role in shielding Justice Isa from state aggression in the past.

Similarly, he noted that Justice Athar Minallah has also consistently stressed the significance of the people's mandate and the right to vote. His stance remains unwavering, and state institutions must heed his perspective, he added.

Despite being aware of the judges' perspectives, CJP Isa scheduled the reserved seats case before this particular bench. The decision to assign the case to this bench, known for adjudicating matters through a constitutional lens, has left many bewildered.Now, a three-judge committee headed by CJP Isa and includes Justice Shah and Justice Munib Akhtar will determine the composition of a larger bench to hear the PTI reserved seats case. There is a possibility that Justice Shah will lead the larger bench.

Meanwhile, ongoing debate revolves around how the interim order has effectively halted the government's efforts to introduce a constitutional amendment aimed at altering the process of judges' appointments.

In addition, the government is contemplating extending the retirement age of Supreme Court judges from 65 to 68 years.

While the proposal holds merit, the question arises whether PTI, as the largest party, will throw its weight behind the constitutional amendment. Lawyers argue that any legislation concerning the judiciary should be pursued with consensus.

Nevertheless, CJP Isa's stance on PTI politics remains unmistakable. Throughout the hearing on the Faizabad Dharna commission report, Justice Isa repeatedly referred to the events of May 9.

Despite state institutions affording him respect for his opinions, PTI leaders have voiced their displeasure towards him.
It is evident that the letter from the six IHC judges has impacted the standing of both CJP Isa and IHC CJ Aamer Farooq.


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