Pakistan's Premier Multilingual News Agency

SC suspends LHC verdict and ECP notification in tribunals case

Islamabad, 4 July 2024, (GNP): The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday suspended both the Lahore High Court’s decision to establish additional election tribunals and the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) notification from April 26.

The Supreme Court’s decision came as a five-member bench reviewed the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) appeal against the Lahore High Court’s (LHC) recent ruling that established eight election tribunals for addressing election petitions related to national and provincial assembly constituencies.

The bench, led by Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa, included Justices Amin-ud-Din Khan, Jamal Khan Mandokhel, Naeem Akhtar Afghan, and Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi.

The SC’s ruling today is the latest development in the ongoing dispute between the ECP and the LHC over the appointment of judges to election tribunals for the February 8 elections.

The ECP had petitioned the SC under Article 185(3) of the Constitution, arguing that under Articles 219 and 222(b), the authority to appoint election tribunals lies with the ECP and not the high court.

Furthermore, the ECP contended that Article 219 does not explicitly require consultation with the chief justice of the relevant high court for appointing election tribunals or determining their territorial jurisdiction.

Section 140(3) of the Elections Act 2017 mandates consultation with the chief justice of the high court only for appointing sitting high court judges as election tribunals, but this consultation does not extend to assigning territorial jurisdiction, which is solely the ECP’s responsibility, as outlined in Sections 140(1) and 151 of the Elections Act 2017, the plea asserted.

During the hearing, Justice Mandokhail commented that the electoral body cannot dictate to the LHC Chief Justice regarding the selection of judges.

“You [ECP] cannot choose between the judges,” Justice Mandokhail said.

Chief Justice Isa noted that the LHC Chief Justice should have decided on the availability of judges for election tribunals.

In today’s verdict, the court expressed regret over the lack of communication between the ECP and the LHC, and remarked that the two judges notified by the ECP, in response to the six nominated by the LHC Chief Justice, were “insufficient.”

The SC emphasized that the issue arose after the LHC created additional tribunals. The court decided to keep the case pending and left the matter to be resolved through consultation between the ECP and the LHC Chief Justice.

The court directed the LHC and the ECP to consult each other on the issue and then adjourned the case until meaningful consultations have been held.

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ECP at odds with LHC

The issue first arose when the ECP, on February 14, requested a panel of serving judges from the LHC for election tribunals. In response, the LHC Chief Justice nominated two judges on February 20, followed by another six judges on April 14.

On April 26, the ECP notified two of these six nominated judges. However, the ECP then requested additional names for appointments to the Rawalpindi and Bahawalpur election tribunals. This request was denied by the LHC Chief Justice, who insisted through the high court’s registrar that the ECP should notify the election tribunals as consisting of the judges nominated by the Chief Justice.

The ECP refused, arguing that doing so would imply that the tribunals were solely appointed by the LHC Chief Justice and not as a result of consultations between the ECP and the Chief Justice, which would violate Section 140(3) of the Elections Act.

Subsequently, LHC Chief Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad constituted eight election tribunals to hear cases related to the February 8 polls, a move that was then challenged by the ECP in the Supreme Court.