Pak SC strikes down judgments review law; dims former PM Nawaz Sharif's prospects to challenge his lifetime disqualification

Pakistan's government in May enacted the law to provide the right of appeal against conviction by the Supreme Court under its original jurisdiction.

Updated - August 11, 2023 07:05 pm IST

Published - August 11, 2023 04:01 pm IST - Islamabad

A view of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Islamabad. FIle

A view of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Islamabad. FIle | Photo Credit: AFP

Pakistan's Supreme Court in a unanimous verdict on August 11 struck down a law modifying the review process of its judgements, dampening the hopes of former premier Nawaz Sharif who was seeking to challenge his lifetime disqualification from holding any public office.

The apex court ruled that the Supreme Court (Review of Judgments and Orders) Act 2023 was "unconstitutional".

The law is “aimed at facilitating and strengthening the Supreme Court in exercising its powers to review its judgements and orders”.

Pakistan's government in May enacted the law to provide the right of appeal against conviction by the Supreme Court under its original jurisdiction.

Nawaz Sharif, the elder brother of outgoing Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, was disqualified in 2017 by a five-member bench of the apex court but he couldn't file an appeal as there was no law to challenge the judgment of the top judiciary.

In 2018, he became ineligible to hold public office for life after a Supreme Court verdict.

The 73-year-old former premier has been living in London since November 2019 for medical treatment after a Pakistani court allowed him a four-week reprieve.

Mr. Sharif, who has served as the Prime Minister of Pakistan for three non-consecutive terms, was serving seven-year imprisonment in the Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore in the Al-Azizia corruption case before he left for London.

Politician Jahangir Tareen was also disqualified under Article 62 of the Constitution by the Supreme Court.

Had the verdict on August 17 been in favour of the petitions, both leaders would have had an opportunity to challenge their disqualifications, keeping in view their political ambitions amid the upcoming general elections in the country following the completion of the tenure of the National Assembly, Geo News reported.

A three-member bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar heard multiple petitions challenging the controversial law.

The detailed verdict said that the law was “repugnant to and ultra vires the Constitution” while being beyond the legislative competence of Parliament.

“It is accordingly struck down as null and void and of no legal effect,” the order said.

The order said that any attempt by way of ordinary legislation to interfere in the scope of the Supreme Court’s powers and jurisdiction, including but not limited to its review jurisdiction, would constitute a wrong and erroneous reading and interpretation of the Constitution.

The judgement further said that there was no “express authorisation” in the Constitution which empowered Parliament to enlarge the Supreme Court’s review jurisdiction under Article 188.

“In addition, the 2023 Act does not ‘enlarge’ review jurisdiction, it ‘creates’ a new appellate jurisdiction which has no constitutional basis, sanction or authorisation,” the order said.

It further said that any legislation interfering with the independence of the judiciary, would by its nature and from its very inception, be “unconstitutional, null, void and of no legal effect”.

It said that a constitutional amendment was needed to convert the court’s review jurisdiction into an appellate jurisdiction.

“It is a well-recognised principle that ordinary law cannot amend, change, delete or add to the Constitution,” the order said.

The order said that the so-called “enlargement” of the apex court’s jurisdiction had “no constitutional sanction or basis” and was not anchored in any provision of the Constitution relating to the judiciary or the Supreme Court.

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