As a result of Judge Aminuddin’s recusal, the apex court has dismissed the bench that was hearing the petition from the PTI against the election postponement.

Police officers walk past the Supreme Court of Pakistan building, in Islamabad, Pakistan April 6, 2022. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

A important event is the dissolution of the bench of the Supreme Court when one of the judges recused himself from hearing the Pakistan Tehreek-e-(PTI) Insaf’s appeal on the delay of Punjab’s provincial elections.

In order to hear the PTI’s petition challenging the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) March 22 notification announcing the postponement of Punjab elections, previously scheduled for April 30, a five-judge Supreme Court bench, presided over by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, was established.

The federal government, which is run by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), urged the creation of a full court to determine the case, despite the fact that some of the party’s top officials had publicly attacked certain senior judges, including the CJP, for their purported neutrality.

The Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023, a piece of proposed legislation that attempted to limit the top judge’s suo motu powers, was similarly hastily crafted by the administration. On March 29 and 30, the National Assembly and the Senate both easily passed the measure.

On March 29, a Supreme Court bench decided to postpone all issues being heard by different Supreme Court benches under Article 184 (3) of the Constitution until the Supreme Court Rules 1980 addressing the CJP’s discretionary powers had been amended.

The three-judge panel, which was chaired by Justice Qazi Faez Isa and also included Justice Aminuddin Khan and Judge Shahid Waheed, rendered the decision by a vote of 2 to 1 with Justice Waheed writing the dissenting opinion.

Judge Aminuddin Khan, who had supported Justice Isa’s decision on Wednesday, said on Thursday that he intended to step out from the five-judge bench’s consideration of the vote delay matter.

In light of the decision from yesterday, he stated, “I withdraw myself from hearing this case.”

Another judge on the bench, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, also wanted to speak, but after Justice Khan’s recusal, the other judges abruptly left the courtroom. Justices Munib Akhtar and Ijazul Ahsan were also on the bench.

CJP Bandial had urged the interior and defense ministries to provide a deadline for addressing the security situation during the most recent hearing, which took place on Wednesday. The ECP has delayed the elections due to the deteriorating security situation as well as a shortage of funding.

Justice Bandial on Tuesday also suggested that the salaried class, including judges, could take a 5% pay cut to fund the elections in response to the government’s claims regarding financial difficulties to hold timely elections.

The government does not have money to hold separate elections in provinces but it has the money to conduct joint elections, he had observed.

The Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP), Mansoor Usman Awan, was requested to seek guidance from the federal government in this respect after Judge Bandial remarked that the ECP lacked any authority or legal justification to prolong the poll date to October 8.

Nevertheless, Judge Mandokhail had criticized the Supreme Court’s March 1 judgment during the hearing, claiming that the case had been rejected by a majority of 4 to 3 and that the CJP had not made a “order of the court.”

The four justices’ decision in the suo motu case, according to Judge Mandokhail, was the “order of the court.” He had questioned how, in the absence of an order, the president could announce a date for the polls and the ECP could publish an election timetable.

The four judges who had dissented in the suo motu case, he said, were his “brothers.” A full court bench should be established to hear the matter, according to the PPP’s legal representative.

Nevertheless, Judge Mandokhail had questioned the need for a full court hearing and said that the matter should be heard by the same seven-judge panel. The PPP’s attorney had stated that the current predicament required the creation of a full-court bench and that the country was “confused.”

The SC’s March 1 ruling needed to be clarified, he noted. The attorney had been requested by CJP Bandial to make a formal request to the court.

Election day is the same

The Supreme Court has received a petition calling for the National Assembly and all provincial assemblies to hold their elections on the same day. Malik Faisal Mahmood, through attorney Malik Kabir, filed the petition.

The petitioner said that because early general elections would mean shortening the terms of three legislatures, the concept should be rejected.