Hamza’s fate hangs in balance as LHC seeks more arguments

Justice Shahid Jamil observes will immediately issue orders if previous verdicts apply to decisionHearing of case resumes today

The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Wednesday observed that it would look into the matter of Punjab chief minister’s election if the Supreme Court’s opinion on Article 63-A could apply in the given circumstances.

“We will immediately issue orders if we find that the previous verdicts apply to our decision,” remarked Justice Shahid Jamil Khan- a judge of an LHC larger bench seized with the hearing of appeals against the election of Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz and his oath.

Justice Sadaqat Ali Khan was heading the bench while Justice Shehram Sarwar Chaudhary, Justice Sajid Mehmood Sethi and Justice Tariq Saleem were the other members of the bench.

On April 16, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Hamza Shehbaz was elected Punjab chief minister during a session of the provincial assembly that was marred by violence.

He received a total of 197 votes – 11 more than the required 186 – including from 25 dissident Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) MPAs that were crucial for his victory. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), however, de-seated the PTI dissidents.

The bench on Tuesday had hinted at holding fresh polls for the post of the Punjab chief minister.

During the proceedings on Wednesday, the bench observed that the president and the governor could not prefer to be silent over any constitutional matter as they were responsible for protecting the constitution.

The court observed that it had two options at the moment. “If we say that those 25 votes are not included (in the CM election) then the presiding officer will have to look into the matter once again.”

The counsel representing the PTI contended that this would make the court responsible for issuing directions for the next elections. The court, however, disagreed, saying that the presiding officer will look into the matter according to the law.

Barrister Ali Zafar told the bench that there were two separate petitions; one was about the election and the other related to oath.

Meanwhile, the court asked the counsel of the chief minister to argue the case. After hearing both sides, the bench put off further hearing till Thursday (today).

Sibtain Khan and 17 other PTI leaders had filed an intra-court appeal in the LHC against the verdict of its single bench directing NA speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to administer oath to Punjab CM-elect Hamza Shehbaz, who is now the chief minister.

The PTI leaders had deemed the decision beyond the facts and called it contradictory to the constitution.

LHC Justice Jawad Hassan in his ruling had directed the speaker to administer oath to Hamza Shehbaz and had fixed the date and time for the oath ceremony to end the crisis in Punjab.

The appellants had said, “the high court’s single bench in the absence of any pleadings by any single party to be arrayed as respondents in the writ petition, on the very first day, reserved judgement”.

They had argued that such conduct was unprecedented and was a clear violation of the constitution and the proceedings had caused turmoil and created havoc. They had pointed out that a third petition was filed for the same cause, which had already been decided in two separate petitions.

They had argued that the judicial proceedings of the single bench also contained “rude remarks against constitutional officers such as the governor of Punjab and the president of Pakistan in the reserved judgment”.

They had contended that the haste and the procedure showed an absence of justice, pleading with the court that a larger bench of not less than seven judges should hear this matter.

They had further pleaded with the court that the impugned order passed by the single bench had ignored the facts and it had also been contradictory to various articles of the constitution and same be declared null and void.

“This judgment is against articles 48, 87, 133, 187, 190, 204, 248 and 255 of the constitution,” the PTI’s counsel had argued.

The PTI had also challenged two separate verdicts of a single bench comprising Chief Justice Muhammad Ameer Bhatti on two different petitions filed by Hamza Shehbaz.

Fida Hussnain is a correspondent covering judiciary, politics, business and health issues. He is also a feature writer and researcher with major work on freedom of press in Pakistan. He tweets @fidahassanain and can be reached at fidahassanain@gmail.com.

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