The political saga surrounding Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s conviction in the contempt case took a somewhat humorous turn, as the Supreme Court (SC) on Friday questioned whether a convicted person could still be the chief executive of the country, even from a prison cell.
Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, the premier’s counsel, answered with an emphatic “yes”, saying the trial bench’s verdict did not amount to disqualification. On the court’s query, Aitzaz replied that one could question the moral and political status of a member of parliament who was convicted under moral turpitude like committing corruption, but there was no constitutional bar in this regard.
Aitzaz stated that as per Article 63(1) (g) and (h) of the Constitution, despite Prime Minister Gilani’s conviction, he could continue performing his functions as the premier from a jail cell wearing a prisoner’s uniform.
Aitzaz added that the article states that an MP shall be disqualified if he or she has been, on conviction for any offence involving moral turpitude, sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years.
The focus of the proceedings of the three-judge bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, was on a question raised in identical petitions filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz on National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza’s ruling in the case regarding the premier’s disqualification.
The chief justice observed that through her ruling, Mirza cast aside the judgment of the highest court of the country. The bench also observed that Prime Minister Gilani was the only parliamentarian who was unwilling to challenge his conviction.
When the chief justice noted that no one appeared on behalf of the speaker to represent her in the court, despite her being a party to the case, Attorney General Irfan Qadir, in his typical aggressive style, stood up from his seat and vehemently told the bench that Mirza enjoyed supra-judicial powers, meaning the court could not summon her or question her authority.
Qadir then flipped the question on the chief justice, asking him what he would do if the NA speaker summoned him on any issue. Justice Chaudhry, as cool as a cucumber, replied: “Don’t worry, I will appear before her if the need arose.”
However, Latif Qureshi, a joint secretary of the NA, told the bench that Mirza had asked him to represent her in the case. The court asked Qureshi to submit an authority letter signed by the speaker stating him as her representative.
Aitzaz told the court that he was not well prepared to assist it on the specific question related to the speaker’s ruling in favour of the prime minister, but said that the speaker exercised her adjudicatory power.
He also claimed that she enjoyed exclusive powers under the Constitution. Aitzaz was asked to conclude his arguments on June 18, by 11 am, after which the attorney general would assist the court on the issue.
Larger bench plea rejected
As the hearing of the speaker’s ruling case began, Aitzaz proposed formation of a larger bench, saying that the case was of high priority. However, the chief justice declined his request.
While presenting his case, Aitzaz said that the NA speaker’s office was not a “post office,” adding that she too had the right to use her own brain. He also added that the attitude of the judges who took the decision was not objective. “I am a judge myself,” remarked Chief Justice Chaudhry. “I will not let you speak this way about judges,” he warned.
When the chief justice asked Aitzaz why Prime Minister Gilani had not filed an appeal, he replied that they had accepted the sentence and since there was no issue of disqualification, there was no need to file an appeal.
“Not filing an appeal does not affect this case,” remarked Aitzaz, to which the chief justice said that the court was not going to include this point. “Tell us your next point,” he reiterated. In response, Aitzaz refused, and received a “thank you, don’t tell us” as a reply from the chief justice.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 16th, 2012.