On Monday, two judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, released a 27-page order announcing that the suo motu case on elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had been dismissed by a majority of four judges out of the total seven.
The judges expressed their concerns about the power of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, stating that it was necessary to revisit the “power of a one-man show” enjoyed by the office. They emphasised that to strengthen the institution and ensure public trust and confidence in the court, it was essential to have a rule-based system that was approved by all judges under Article 191 of the Constitution.
In their order, they wrote, “his court cannot be dependent on the solitary decision of one man, the Chief Justice, but must be regulated through a rule-based system approved by all judges of the court under Article 191 of the Constitution.”
The decision split 3-2, with Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Munib Akhtar, and Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar endorsing the majority’s decision to dismiss the case. Justices Shah and Mandokhail dissented from the majority’s decision.
The court had previously ordered that elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa must take place within the next 90 days, and the judges were hearing a suo motu notice regarding the delay in the elections.
However, the case was not without its complications. Justices Ijaz-ul-Ahsan and Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi had withdrawn from the hearing due to eligibility concerns, while two other judges, Justice Afridi and Justice Minallah, had also recused themselves from the proceedings.
This decision comes after a day prior to the verdict, Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial vowed to protect the Constitution, not a particular political party, stating that “we cannot abandon the Constitution, and we cannot override the Constitution.”
The judges’ order reflects their concerns about the role of the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the need for a rule-based system that is approved by all judges to ensure the court’s independence and public trust. The split decision also indicates that there may be differing opinions within the court regarding this issue.