Full court to be constituted to hear Musharraf case

By Muhammad Najeeb, IANS

Islamabad : The 11-member bench of the Pakistan Supreme Court hearing petitions against President Pervez Musharraf’s candidature for the presidential poll has referred the case to the chief justice and recommended the constitution of a “full court” to hear it.

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“We have recommended to the chief justice to constitute a full court to hear these petitions,” head of the bench Justice Javed Iqbal said after a preliminary hearing and adjourned the case.

The petitioners’ lawyers had said a full court be constituted as this was an important matter that would set the future course of governance in the country.

The court heard arguments for about 50 minutes. It then adjourned for 20 minutes and said the 11 judges unanimously agreed to the constitution of a full court and referred the case back to Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

Soon after the short order, Attorney General Abdul Qayyum stood up to say that the government would object to the inclusion of four judges if a full court were constituted to hear the case.

The present strength of the Supreme Court is 19, including the chief justice who was sacked by Musharraf in March but was restored to his post by the apex court after four months of protests by lawyers throughout the country.

Responding to Qayyum, petitioners’ counsel and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Aitzaz Ahsan said if the government objected to the inclusion of four judges, “we would also raise objections on five of the judges”.

“Judges are judges and bench cannot be constituted according anyone’s choices,” Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramdey remarked.

On Oct 5, a 10-member Supreme Court bench had declined to stay the presidential election but had directed the Election Commission not to notify the result till it gave its verdict on the petitions.

The next day, Musharraf won the presidential election by huge margin for another five-year term.

Later, the Supreme Court reconstituted the bench after dropping one member of the earlier 10-judge bench and inducting two other judges.

Five cases are pending before the bench – two petitions had been moved by retired Supreme Court judge and presidential candidate Wajihuddin Ahmed and Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) leader Liaquat Baloch against the Election Commission; three others seek review of the earlier apex court judgment on the application of Article 63 of the constitution on the election of the president.

PPP vice-chairperson Makhdoom Amin Fahim, pathologist Anwarul Haq and Waseem Rehan, a private citizen, have filed the review petitions.

This will be the third time that the bench hearing the identical petitions challenging Musharraf’s candidature will be reconstituted.

Earlier, Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza Khan had opted out of the nine-member bench, initially constituted by the chief justice, saying he had already given his view that Musharraf was not qualified to contest the election.

Justice Raza was one of the three judges who had dissented with the majority decision of a nine-member Supreme Court bench, which had held that petitions challenging the holding of two offices by Musharraf were not maintainable.