ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court has said that lawmakers holding fake degrees could face criminal cases and it gave 189 ex-lawmakers time until April 5 to submit their educational certificates for verification.

Heading a three-member bench hearing the suo moto notice, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry asked the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to inform the Returning Officers where these parliamentarians have filed nominations for elections 2013, so they could be disqualified in case of non-compliance.

The court took up the case after the HEC wrote to the apex court that degrees of 54 former parliamentarians have been found to be forged while 189 MPs degrees were yet to be verified.

ECP Secretary Ishtiaq Ahmed told the court that by now the number of cases of confirmed fake degrees of former parliamentarians has risen to 69. He said they have already filed references against 13 persons, 21 cases have been referred for registration of FIRs, 27 cases stand closed while eight cases are under process at the commission.

The court said the ECP in respect of 27 former parliamentarians, whose cases have been closed, could draw inference that they gave wrong declarations at the time of submitting nomination papers for Elections 2008 in view of Article 62 and 63; therefore, the commission could initiate criminal proceeding against them.

The chief justice said that once a candidate submits a declaration that he or she is qualified under Article 62 and that he or she faces no disqualification under Article 63 of constitution and later on it is proved that the person concerned had given a false declaration then he or she stands disqualified for future elections even if the person in question had resigned from his legislative post.

The CJ added that the ECP can de-notify such persons and can also proceed against them. “Once a disqualification is always a disqualification on the basis that the candidate did not provide clean information,” he remarked.

The chief justice went on to say, “There should be ruthless scrutiny of candidates’ papers, as each candidate is going to represent more than 50,000 voters. We need true representatives.” Though an illiterate person can contest the election now but one who deceived the authorities through false statement would become ineligible for the forthcoming general elections as the parliamentarians are to decide the fate of the country, he added.

HEC Chairman Javed Leghari informed the court that in 2010 the ECP had written letters to the parliamentarians asking them to get their degrees verified. He said they also wrote to universities to verify the degree, but the universities could not verify the degrees unless original matriculation and intermediate certificates are provided to them.

ECP secretary told that on February 28 a meeting was held with the representatives of parliamentarians, headed by ex-Law Minister Farooq H Naek, wherein it was decided that HEC would verify the degrees. He said they have placed the names of those persons intending to contest 2013 elections on the internet and they will be accessible to ‘all and sundry’.

The court noted that HEC wrote letter to the ECP for verification of MPs degrees and since then it had also been updating the commission but it had not strictly adhered to the court judgment in Rizwan Gill case. The chief justice said in light of the ECP letter, dated 7-2-2013, to former MNAs and MPAs the commission should have disqualified the parliamentarians who did not comply with its directions.

Counsel for Chaudhry Nisar of PML-N, Akram Sheikh argued before the bench that his client has done O-Level and A-Level from Cambridge University and he has provided the documents to the HEC. Justice Azmat Saeed remarked that when according to him his client ‘passed’ Cambridge exams there was no O-Level or A-Level. The case was adjourned until April 8, 2013.