Courts decide cases on legal–not moral, ethical grounds: Punjab High Court Chief Justice Shah

Courts decide cases on legal not moral grounds observed Chief Justice of Punjab High Court while hearing multiple lawsuits on Friday challenging the Elections Act, 2017 recently passed by an overwhelming vote of the Parliament allowing a court-disqualified person to head a political party.

Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah of the province’s top court advised the petitioner’s lawyer to take such issues to parliament instead and avoid dragging courts into it in the name of moral values. “Approaching courts on each issue is not a solution,” the Judge observed.

While hearing the important constitutional petition whose verdict may have significant implications in Pakistan politics going forward, the top judge said that voters had the right to elect a defaulter or a disqualified person. ‘The Constitution empowered citizens to vote for a person of their own choice whether a defaulter or a disqualified person,’ Justice Shah observed.

According to some observers, the final decision may be challenged either way in the country’s highest court (Supreme Court), as the matter relates to gaps and anomaly in existing laws related to what’s moral and ethical, and how these crucial civil attributes are addressed in a democratic society. Elections are due next summer and key parties are vying to lead the pack– jostling to unseat or unsettle the ruling party PML-N led by ousted premier Nawaz Sharif.

“The verdict of voters is always supreme in any democratic system,” the chief justice said when a petitioner’s counsel questioned a section in the election law that paved the way for former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to head his own faction of the Pakistan Muslim League despite his disqualification by the Supreme Court in the Panama Papers case.

The chief justice said Article 17 of the Constitution gave right to every citizen to form associations or unions subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by the law in the interest of sovereignty or integrity of the country. It was written nowhere in the Constitution or the election law that a defaulter or disqualified person could not form a political party, he added.

The petitioner’s counsel argued that sections in the Elections Act were based on malafide intent and to benefit a disqualified person. He insisted that the court had the power to put the amendments to judicial review and strike down the same.

The counsel argued that it looked strange and beyond ethical values that a person disqualified by the top court for corruption continued to head his political party.

Rejecting the arguments put forward by the counsel, Justice Shah said it might be unethical but courts had to see whether or not an act was against the law and the Constitution. “Don’t force courts to decide cases on moral grounds instead of legal,” he added.

Sticking to his stance, the counsel said such acts of parliament should be passed through a filter of courts. Otherwise, he added, any terrorist or criminal would establish a political party.

The chief justice advised the lawyer to take such issues to parliament and avoid dragging courts into it in the name of moral values. “Approaching courts on each issue is not a solution,” Justice Shah said.

The provincial chief justice adjourned the hearing until Nov 14 and asked the lawyers from both sides to also look into the election laws of other countries.

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