Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial on Thursday said that it was clear that the April 3 ruling of National Assembly Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri, which dismissed the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan, was erroneous.
“The real question at hand is what happens next,” he said, adding that now the PML-N counsel and the Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Jawed Khan would guide the court on how to proceed.
“We have to look at national interest,” he said, adding that the court would issue a verdict today.
He made the remarks as a five-member bench, headed by CJP Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel, Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Mandokhel resumed hearing the suo motu case concerning the legality of the deputy speaker’s ruling and the subsequent dissolution of the NA by the president on the PM’s advice.
In anticipation of the verdict, security has been beefed up at the SC premises. Television footage showed riot police deployed outside the apex court.
‘PM does not need to give reasons for dissolving assembly’
The AGP — who was the last to give his arguments — began by informing the court that he would not be able to give details of the recent meeting of the National Security Committee in an open courtroom. He asserted that the court could issue an order without questioning anyone’s loyalty.
He argued that prime minister was the “biggest stakeholder” and, therefore, had the power to dissolve the NA. “The prime minister does not need to give reasons for dissolving the assembly,” the AGP contended.
He also pointed out that the assembly would stand dissolved if the president did not make a decision on the prime minister’s advice within 48 hours. He argued that voting on the no-confidence motion was not the fundamental right of a lawmaker.
“The right to vote is subject to the Constitution and assembly rules,” Khan said. He also pointed out that if the NA speaker suspends a member, they cannot approach a court against it.
“Are you trying to say that voting on the no confidence motion is subject to the rules,” the CJP asked, to which the AGP replied that all proceedings, including the no-confidence motion, were carried out in accordance with the rules.
The AGP said that there was no “firewall” that gave complete immunity to parliamentary proceedings. “The court will decide the extent to which parliamentary proceedings can be reviewed,” he said. The AGP pointed out that the court could intervene if the speaker declared a person with the minority number of votes to be the prime minister.
At this, Justice Akhtar remarked that the speaker was the caretaker of the house. “The speaker is not there for his personal satisfaction. The speaker can’t just give his opinion and ignore the members,” he observed.
The AGP replied by saying that political parties play an important role in a parliamentary system of government. However, he pointed out that assembly had a term limit, not the members. “One individual has the power to dissolve the assembly.”
The AGP claimed that the no-confidence motion against Imran Khan was “dismissed” on March 28. He asked the court what would happen if 20 per cent of the assembly voted in favour of the no-confidence motion but the majority voted against it.
Justice Akhtar replied that if 172 members approved the motion, the prime minister would be ousted.
The AGP pointed out that 86 members needed to present in order to complete quorum, adding that it was also important to show the majority at the time of tabling the resolution. “All 172 members of the assembly should be present on the day the motion is tabled,” he said.
He added that the gap between the tabling of the motion and voting on it was so that the prime minister could win back angry lawmakers.
‘Ruling did not have deputy speaker’s signature’
During the hearing, Justice Mandokhel said that even though Suri announced the April 3 ruling which dismissed the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan, it was signed by Speaker Asad Qaiser.
He made the observation as Suri and Qaiser’s lawyer, Naeem Bukhari, presented his arguments.
Responding to the judge’s statement, Bukhari replied that perhaps the documents given to him might not be “original”.
Justice Mandokhel also pointed out that the minutes of the parliamentary committee meeting, which were submitted to court by Bukhari, didn’t prove if the deputy speaker was present.
Continuing, Justice Mandokhel asked whether the foreign minister was present during the parliamentary committee meeting, noting that his signature was not included in the record.
“Shouldn’t the foreign minister have been present?” the judge asked, which prompted the lawyer to admit the minister should have been present.
At this, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial pointed out that the name of the national security adviser at the time, Moeed Yusuf, was also not included in the record.
These remarks came as a five-member bench, headed by CJP Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel, Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Mandokhel resumed hearing the case at 9:30am today.
Bukhari began his arguments by stating that he would focus on whether a point of order could be discussed at any time. He argued that the apex court had refrained from interfering in parliamentary proceedings in the past and asked whether the court would have taken notice if the speaker had dismissed Fawad Chaudhry’s point of order.
“When assemblies were dissolved in the past, the election process was not stopped even though it was declared unconstitutional,” he said, asserting that the speaker could reject the no-trust move on a point of order. “This has never happened before but the speaker has the power [to do so].”
He said that the former minister had requested a point of order as soon as the session had began. “The point of order couldn’t have been taken up had voting on the no-confidence motion started,” he said.
Justice Mandokhel asked which law stated that the speaker had the power to dismiss the no-confidence motion. “We want to understand the definition of a point of order,” he said.
“The question is whether a new point of order can be taken up once the no-confidence motion is introduced,” the CJP said. Justice Akhtar also asked if the point of order was included in the day’s agenda.
However, Bukhari replied that a point of order could be raised at any time.
“Voting on the no-confidence motion is a constitutional requirement,” Justice Mandokhail pointed out. Can the rules be used to invalidate the constitutional right to vote, he wondered.
“Shouldn’t the opposition have been given a chance to [respond] to the point of order?” the CJP further asked, to which the lawyer replied that it could not be debated.
Bukhari also presented the minutes of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security, during which contents of the ‘threat letter’ were shared with parliamentarians.
Talking about the briefing given to the committee, Bukhari said that the NA body was told that there would be consequences if the no-trust motion failed.
‘Where is constitutional crisis?’
During today’s hearing, Senator Ali Zafar, the president’s counsel, was asked by Justice Miankhel if the prime minister was the people’s representative. The lawyer replied in the affirmative.
Justice Miankhel then inquired if the premier would be protected if the Constitution was violated in parliament. “Is Parliament not the guardian of the Constitution?” he asked. He also questioned how justice would be awarded in case someone is affected due to parliamentary proceedings.
At this, Zafar replied that the Constitution must be protected in accordance with the rules it underlines. He said that in order to protect the Constitution, each and every article had to be kept in mind.
Justice Bandial then asked what would happen when an injustice was carried out against the entire assembly, not just one member.
“Can Parliament interfere if there’s a conflict between judges,” Zafar offered as a counter argument. “The answer is no. The judiciary has to settle the matter. It can’t interfere just like Parliament can’t [interfere in judges’ matters].”
The CJP also asked whether the formation of the federal government was an “internal matter” of Parliament.
Zafar said that the no-confidence motion and the prime minister’s election fell within the ambit of Parliament. He said that the National Assembly is formed for the purpose of appointing a speaker and a prime minister.
He also referred to former PM Mohammad Khan Junejo’s case, who was dismissed by ex-president Gen Ziaul Haq. “Junejo’s government was dissolved and the court declared it unconstitutional,” Zafar pointed out, adding that the court did not interfere in actions taken after the dissolution of the assembly.
However, Justice Miankhel said that the matter at present concerned the no-confidence motion. “A ruling came after the motion. Address this issue,” he told Zafar. CJP Bandial also said that the verdict he was referring to was related to the oath. “Here the matter is about the ruling, not the oath. We have to draw a line somewhere.”
However, Zafar argued that in this case too elections were announced after dissolving the assembly.
At one point, the CJP asked Zafar why he wasn’t explaining whether or not there was a constitutional crisis in the country. “If everything is happening according to the Constitution, where is the crisis?” he asked.
Zafar replied that he was also saying the same and there was no constitutional crisis in the country.
The CJP also observed that there seemed to be a violation of Article 95. He noted that holding elections cost the nation “billions of rupees”.
However, Zafar argued that the announcement of the election showed there was no malice behind the government’s move.
Justice Mandokhel questioned whether the prime minister could still advise the president to dissolve the assembly if a majority of the members were opposed to it.
Justice Ahsan noted that the PTI still held the majority despite the recent defections. “But what if the majority party is ousted from the system?” he wondered.
Zafar replied that the president’s counsel couldn’t comment on political matters and ended his arguments.
‘NA proceedings beyond judiciary’s jurisdiction’
The lawyer for interim Prime Minister Imran Khan, Imtiaz Siddiqui, began by pointing out that the judiciary had not interfered in parliamentary proceedings in the past.
“The matter at hand concerns NA proceedings. [But] NA proceedings lie beyond the judiciary’s jurisdiction,” he argued, urging the court to tell parliament to settle its own matters. He said that the opposition had not objected to the deputy speaker chairing the session.
“The deputy speaker made a decision according to what he thought was best,” Siddiqui contended, adding that the deputy speaker wasn’t accountable to the court for the ruling he gave. He reiterated that under Article 69, the apex court could not interfere in parliamentary proceedings.
Justice Akhtar noted that verdicts referenced concerned observations made by the courts. “The court is not bound by the observations given in the verdicts,” he said.
Here, Siddiqui stated that the deputy speaker had relied on the assessment of the National Security Committee (NSC), adding that no one could influence the top forum.
This led the CJP to ask when the minutes of NSC meeting were presented before the deputy speaker. Siddiqui said that he unaware about matters concerning the deputy speaker, which prompted the court to tell the lawyer to refrain from talking about things he was unaware of.
“According to you, the deputy speaker was in possession of material on the basis of which he delivered his ruling,” Justice Bandial observed, asking what would be the consequences of the premier violating Article 58.
He also observed that Suri had not objected to voting on March 28 but had passed the ruling on April 3. “Why did the deputy speaker not dismiss the no-trust motion on March 28?”
Justice Ahsan remarked that if the assembly was not dissolved, the house could have suspended the deputy speaker’s ruling. “The prime minister took advantage of the situation and dissolved the assembly,” he said.
However, Siddiqui argued that if the aim was to harm the Constitution, the deputy speaker could have suspended the membership of the dissident lawmakers. “The prime minister did not show any malice,” he contended.
“You’re saying that the prime minister made a plan,” the chief justice said, again asking why the ruling was not issued on March 28 instead.
Siddiqui replied that no plan was hatched to dismiss the no-trust motion. “We dissolved our government ourselves,” he said. He went on to quote the prime minister as saying that he would never have ended his government if there was any malice behind his actions.
He added that according to Imran, billions were spent on holdings elections and he was going to the nation against those who had ruled the country for many years.
Situation in Punjab
At the outset of the hearing, Punjab Advocate General Ahmed Awais brought the court’s attention to the mock Punjab Assembly session held by the opposition on Wednesday where PML-N’s Hamza Shehbaz was declared the new chief minister of the province.
He said that former Punjab governor Chaudhry Sarwar would administer the oath to Hamza at a ceremony at Bagh-i-Jinnah, adding that the PML-N leader had also called a meeting a bureaucrats for today. He contended that the Constitution was a “trivial matter” for the PML-N.
However, the CJP asserted that the apex court would not give any orders regarding the situation in Punjab and advised the counsel to take the matter to the high court.
Meanwhile, Justice Miankhel noted that the doors of the Punjab Assembly were sealed on Tuesday and wondered if this was allowed. However, the CJP reiterated that the court would not divert attention from the case at hand.
‘No-trust resolution had constitutional backing’
During yesterday’s hearing, PTI’s lawyer Babar Awan as well as Senator Ali Zafar, representing President Dr Arif Alvi, had argued before the Supreme Court. Today, the court is expected to hear the arguments of Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Jawed Khan and Naeem Bukhari — the counsel for NA Speaker Asad Qaiser.
Justice Bandial on Wednesday observed that even though Article 69 of the Constitution bars interference in parliamentary proceedings, what happened on April 3 was unprecedented.
“The no-confidence resolution which had a constitutional backing and liable to be succeeded was scuttled at the last minute,” the CJP regretted, adding that if “we permit such a deviation” then it would amount to what Advocate Salahuddin Ahmed had referred to on Tuesday.
Representing the Sindh High Court Bar Association, Advocate Ahmed had cited a 1933 incident when the speaker of the then German assembly, while branding members of the Communist Party as traitors, allowed voting on a constitutional amendment that vested Adolf Hitler and his cabinet with unlimited powers to bring any law without a formal approval of German parliament. That development led Germany’s descent into fascism, the lawyer had recalled.
During the hearing, PML-N Senator Azam Nazir Tarar drew the court’s attention to the precarious situation in Punjab where the provincial assembly secretariat was sealed despite the calling of the session by the deputy speaker. Advocate Imtiaz Siddiqui, who represents the interim prime minister, however, declared the notification as fake.
At this, CJP Bandial said if the system was not functioning then the constitutional functionaries had the authority to assemble anywhere, even at Bagh-i-Jinnah, to hold the session, instead of the assembly hall. He observed that the court didn’t want to get distracted by the situation in Punjab, adding that if “you people are at loggerheads with each other then go to the political sovereign”.
They should learn from the conduct of the National Assembly members who come to the court daily without making any noise and stand here with grace and dignity, the CJP said, adding that the provincial assembly members should find their own solution.
Justice Bandial observed that though the NA deputy speaker’s ruling, according to the lawyer, might be flawed, it was protected under Article 69 of the Constitution. Eventually, the ruling later led to dissolution of the National Assembly for fresh elections.
“Where is the malice if this development is not anti-democratic,” the CJP wondered, but then said there was an element of trickery and if the members had any grouse then why were they afraid of fresh elections?
Justice Mandokhel observed that when political parties believed that floor crossing was malice and all the political parties had suffered in the past, then they must discover the weaknesses which encouraged members to change loyalties and should find a solution by concentrating on institution building.
He said the court would decide the present case in the interest of the country that would be binding upon all. He wondered why the entire assembly was thrown out instead of inquiring about the conduct of those who connived with a foreign state to dislodge the government.
Justice Akhtar recalled that the UK Supreme Court had ruled the other day that it was the court which would determine the privileges of members of parliament.
Senator Ali Zafar argued that the law of parliamentary privileges had been developed in the context of the principle of trichotomy of powers, under which parliament had certain privileges — the fundamental and foremost privileges are that parliament is the sole and exclusive judge and master of its own proceedings and business and no decisions or rulings made while conducting parliamentary proceedings or business were justiciable.
The president’s counsel cited a recent speech of Justice Maqbool Baqar who emphasised the delicate balance between institutions through mutual balance like honeycomb. He said it was also part of parliamentary privileges that no officer, including the deputy speaker, was subject to jurisdiction of courts in respect of parliamentary privileges or proceedings.
The law on parliamentary privileges is the same as that of the UK House of Commons.
“It is only if a proceeding is outside the scope of proceedings in parliament that the court can examine,” Zafar argued, adding that the Supreme Court could look into the subsequent development of the dissolution of the National Assembly on the advice of the prime minister but not the ruling of the deputy speaker.
“The vote of confidence is clearly a matter of proceedings in the National Assembly and any ruling passed by the speaker or deputy speaker in respect thereof or during the same is not justiciable,” he said.
“In view of the constitutional crisis, the best and the only solution lies with the ultimate sovereign i.e. the people of Pakistan,” he argued, adding that the only remedy available was election.
“Since the appeal has been made to the people of Pakistan and elections are to take place in 90 days, as per the established practice and prudence established by the courts, it should not be interfered at this stage and let the people decide.
“The dissolution of the assemblies is an independent act undertaken by the president under Article 48(5), read with Article 58. At the time, no resolution of no confidence was pending against the prime minister and, hence, the dissolution cannot be questioned under Article 48(4),” the counsel emphasised.
Zafar pointed out that when the elections of the Senate chairman was challenged in the Islamabad High Court, it had ruled that the constitutional elections in parliament were protected [from judicial intervention] as well.
He said the court could only review the speaker’s ruling on the no-confidence motion if it decided to not consider it a parliamentary proceeding.
“What if the votes are not enough but the speaker announces that the no-confidence motion has succeeded?” Justice Mandokhail asked. “What will happen then?
“These may be parliamentary issues but the court cannot monitor the parliament.” The lawyer contended that the parliament should be given a chance to solve its issues itself.
The CJP observed that Zafar’s argument that the speaker’s ruling was protected even if it was wrong was interesting. “After the ruling, the NA was dissolved and fresh elections were announced,” the CJP noted, adding that “it was decided to go to the public.”
The CJP said that the lawyers of PML-N would be asked what the issue was in going to the public. Justice Ahsan then asked how someone’s rights were affected by going into elections. At this point, the CJP reiterated that the case concerned the violation of Article 95 of the Constitution.
“The SC can intervene wherever the Constitution is breached,” Justice Bandial said, but added that “we respect the sanctity of parliament.”
Suo motu notice
On Sunday, CJP Bandial had taken suo motu notice of the situation after the deputy speaker’s dismissal of the no-confidence motion against the premier, clubbing multiple petitions filed by various parties with it.
After a brief hearing, a written order was issued which said the court would like to “examine whether such an action (dismissal of the no-trust motion on the basis of Article 5) is protected by the ouster (removal from the court’s jurisdiction) contained in Article 69 of the Constitution.”
Article 69 of the Constitution essentially restricts the court’s jurisdiction to exercise authority on a member or officer of parliament with respect to the functions of regulating parliamentary proceedings or conducting business.
“No officer or member of Majlis-i-Shoora (parliament) in whom powers are vested by or under the Constitution for regulating procedure or the conduct of business, or for maintaining order in Majlis-i-Shoora, shall be subject to the jurisdiction of any court in respect of the exercise by him of those powers,” clause two of the Article reads.
The court had also ordered all state functionaries and authorities — as well as political parties — to refrain from taking any advantage of the current situation and stay strictly within the confines of the Constitution.
Dismissal of no-trust motion
The weeks-long political turmoil in the country reached its climax on April 3 after the NA Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri prorogued a much-awaited session of the lower house of parliament without allowing voting on a no-trust motion against PM Imran.
Suri, who was chairing the session, dismissed the motion in a shock move, terming it against Article 5 of the Constitution.
At the outset of the session, PTI’s Fawad Chaudhry took the floor and referred to the clause, reiterating the premier’s earlier claims that a foreign conspiracy was behind the move to oust the government.
“On March 7, our official ambassador was invited to a meeting attended by the representatives of other countries. The meeting was told that a motion against PM Imran was being presented,” he said, noting that this occurred a day before the opposition formally filed the no-trust move.
“We were told that relations with Pakistan were dependent on the success of the no-confidence motion. We were told that if the motion fails, then Pakistan’s path would be very difficult. This is an operation for a regime change by a foreign government,” he alleged.
The minister questioned how this could be allowed and called on the deputy speaker to decide the constitutionality of the no-trust move.
At that, Suri noted that the motion, which was presented on March 8, should be in accordance with the law and the Constitution. “No foreign power shall be allowed to topple an elected government through a conspiracy,” he said, adding that the points raised by the minister were “valid”.
He dismissed the motion, ruling that it was “contradictory” to the law, the Constitution and the rules.
Dissolution of NA
Within minutes after the NA sitting, PM Imran, in an address to the nation, said he had advised the president to “dissolve assemblies”.
He also congratulated the nation for the no-trust motion being dismissed, saying the deputy speaker had “rejected the attempt of changing the regime [and] the foreign conspiracy”.
The premier further said he had written to the president with advice to dissolve the assemblies, adding that the democrats should go to the public and elections should be held so the people could decide who they wanted in power.
“Prepare for elections. No corrupt forces will decide what the future of the country will be. When the assemblies will be dissolved, the procedure for the next elections and the caretaker government will begin,” he added.
Subsequently, President Alvi dissolved the NA under Article 58 of the Constitution.
Later in the evening, the Cabinet Division issued a notification, declaring that Imran Khan ceased to hold the prime minister’s office with immediate effect. “Consequent upon dissolution of the National Assembly by the president of Pakistan, in terms of Article 58(1) read with Article 48(1) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan… Mr Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi ceases to hold the office of prime minister of Pakistan, with immediate effect,” it read.
However, later, the president issued a notification allowing him to continue as the prime minister.