LAHORE - In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court last week gave overseas Pakistanis right to vote, with direction to the Election Commission of Pakistan to ensure it during the upcoming by-elections in the country as a pilot project. A three-member bench led by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar passed the order on a number of petitions seeking right to vote for overseas Pakistanis at the Supreme Court Lahore Registry. Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Ijazul Ahsan were other members of the bench.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan, solicitor Muhammad Dawood Ghaznavi and others had moved petitions for overseas Pakistanis’ right to vote. ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh and Nadra Chairman Usman Mobeen were also present there. The ECP secretary said that the rules had been made under Election Act, 2017, and a mechanism for I-voting (Internet voting) had also been established with the contribution of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) to overseas Pakistanis’ right to vote.  The CJP congratulated overseas Pakistanis and observed that their right to vote had been accepted and that now its enforcement was the responsibility of the Election Commission of Pakistan. The top judge told ECP and Nadra both to ensure that I-voting process is foolproof and technically efficient and secure. CJP Nisar observed that I-voting should be segregated from the basic balloting process to avoid confusion in election results and that result of I-voting should be presented before the parliament.

An overseas Pakistani who was present there in the courtroom thanked the chief justice on behalf of the overseas Pakistanis for their right to vote. He informed the CJP of the efforts of overseas Pakistanis for collection of funds for construction of dams in the country and requested him to visit the US. He said around $1 million would be contributed by overseas Pakistanis to the fund for construction of dams.

The CJP said he had been invited by overseas Pakistanis residing in different countries for donations of around $1 billion for construction of dams, but it was not possible for him to visit all countries. However, he said, he might visit overseas Pakistanis along with the governor of the State Bank of Pakistan and the Wapda chairman. He said that his visit would be meant to sensitise the overseas Pakistanis about the water crisis in the country. The petitioners had asked the top court to order the government authorities to give them right to vote so that they could participate in elections to choose their leaders. They had also asked the court to order the ECP to implement its 2014 judgement in which arrangements for overseas Pakistanis to cast their vote had been ordered.

Last week, the CJP passed an order for recovery of shoe of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) that was stolen from Badshahi Mosque. Pir SA Jafree had moved the petition to point out failure of the government authorities to nab the culprits for not getting the holy shoe recovered for last many years.

He said the holy shoe was stolen from Royal Mosque in 2002 and since then he had been making efforts for its recovery and action against the culprits. He said he moved a number of applications against the incident but in vain. He said FIR was lodged but no arrest was made by the police. CJP Nisar expressed serious concerns over non-recovery of the holy shoe and directed the Punjab Police chief to come up with the report on investigation.

Last week, the CJP also took suo motu notice on ads of new admissions in medical colleges, observing that the new admissions in medical colleges were linked with the court’s decisions. The CJP restrained the colleges from running ads for new admissions in medical classes.

At the Lahore High Court, the case regarding collection of advance tax from marriage halls and appointment of Ali Jahangir Siddiqui as Pakistani ambassador to the United States came in the limelight last week. Justice Shahid Jamil Khan of the LHC directed Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to submit reply about collection of advance tax from marriage halls and others, and restrained it from taking coercive action against defaulters of advance tax. A number of marriage hall owners had approached the LHC against the recent amendment to  Section 236 of the Income Tax Ordinance 2001 under the Finance Act 2018.

Justice Khan surprised over collection of fixed amount of advanced tax on every single function either it is small or big.

Advocate AK Dogar, the lead counsel, contended before the bench, saying that the Constitution has guaranteed right to do lawful business and no such law could be made that would infringe this right of free trade and business in the country. The lawyer cited several judgements of the apex court wherein fundamental rights were protected, arguing that any law which infringed the fundamental right would be considered void.

The counsel also argued that under Section 236 D of the income tax ordinance, every citizen was required to pay advance tax at the rate of five per cent of the bill for running a business of marriage halls. He further argued that the amendment in the law was made to introduce a proviso according to which advance tax shall be payable in urban areas at the rate of Rs20,000 per function. However, according to newly amended law, the owner of a marriage hall was required to pay Rs 20,000 even if his bill was lower.

The counsel said that the advance tax could be payable legally on a percentage basis and its amount could not be fixed.

He prayed to the court to declare the new amendment to Finance Act as illegal and unlawful and restrain the FBR authorities from harassing those running small and large scale businesses in the country.

After hearing initial arguments of the petitioners’ counsels, Justice Khan sought detailed reply from FBR and restrained it from taking action against defaulters of the advance tax. The court adjourned further hearing until August 28.  Taking up the matter of Ali Jahangir Siddiqui’s appointment as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, the LHC expressed serious concerns over Ministry of Foreign Affairs for not submitting reply. Justice Mamoon Rashid Sheikh was hearing the petition moved by Barrister Javed Iqbal Jafree. A law officer representing the federal government pleaded the court to give more time to submit reply on behalf of the ministry. On this, Justice Sheikh observed that government departments had developed habit of doing no work. The judge warned the law officer that the foreign affairs secretary would be summoned if the reply was not submitted at the next date of hearing. The lawyer had questioned appointment of Ali Jahangir Siddiqui as ambassador to the US, arguing that it was made without approval of the federal cabinet. The lawyer said Siddiqui did not have relevant experience of diplomacy. He prayed to the court to set aside the appointment of Siddiqui as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US. The sessions court directed lawyers of both PTI chief Imran Khan and PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif to come up with arguments on territorial jurisdiction of the court to hear Rs10 billion damages suit of the latter against the former.

Additional District & Sessions Judge Anjum Mumtaz was hearing the case and he put off further hearing until Sept 1.

Advocate Sajid Munawar Qureshi, the associate of Advocate Babar Awan, represented PTI chief Imran Khan and questioned territorial jurisdiction of the court to hear the damages suit moved by Shehbaz Sharif. Advocate Babar Awan could not appear before the court due to his engagement in Islamabad.

The counsel said that Khan’s press conference which was challenged by the plaintiff was held in Islamabad rather than Lahore and therefore the court of Lahore did not have territorial jurisdiction to hear the case.

Shehbaz Sharif had moved the court against Khan for levelling allegations of corruption and offering him Rs10 billion through a common friend for withdrawing case of Panama Papers before the Supreme Court. He asked the court to order PTI chief Khan to pay him Rs10 billion as compensation for causing damage to his repute.