The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the suspension of a sentence awarded to an election candidate has no impact on his or her disqualification to contest the poll. The 8-page verdict penned by the three-member bench of the SC is a landmark judgment which could be consequential for lawmakers across the country.

The case revolved around Nasir Mehmood, a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader from Gujrat, and another PML-N candidate who had both been given sentences by the trial court. These sentences were suspended by the high court on an appeal filed by them against the trial court’s judgement. The candidates were arguing that the suspension of those sentences should allow them to contest the elections of public office that they wanted, which were the offices of the chairman and vice-chairman of Union Council 3, Gujrat Municipal Corporation, while the final verdict in the cases were being heard.

The Supreme Court has unequivocally rejected that premise. Justice Ijazul Ahsan who penned the judgment wrote, “The suspension of sentence would have no consequence on the conviction of the appellants for the purposes of being qualified to contest either the local bodies elections or the elections for the Legislative Assemblies.” Rejecting the argument by the appellants that they had not served time in jail before their sentences were suspended, thus their convictions should not bear the same weight under the laws of disqualification, the Supreme Court ruled that it was not the time served behind bars that mattered, but the convictions themselves. The Court compared it to a scenario of if a person was convicted for a crime, yet were released early due to good behaviour, then that conviction would still have equal weight under the law. Here too, the same principle applied. Until the conviction was not specifically overturned in an appeals court, the candidate would be unable to contest elections under Article 62 and 63 of the constitution.

This verdict comes at a time when parliamentarians are being disqualified left and right on the basis of convictions by the Courts. The accountability movement led by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government will be strengthened by this case- the verdict deems that a person whose sentence is temporarily suspended, such as Maryam Nawaz’s is, would still be unable to contest for office. The only way for disqualified lawmakers to contest elections again is to complete the often long and strenuous court process of fighting an appeal and having their convictions specifically set aside.