SC rejects EC bid
The Election Commission (EC) yesterday decided to deploy judicial magistrates in the December 29 general election, following the Supreme Court's (SC) disapproval of its earlier decision to empower executive magistrates to try punishable electoral offences.
A quasi-judicial body, the commission on November 27 chose to give executive magistrates the power practised by their peers in the judiciary. It was only later that it sought the apex court's opinions on the matter.
In a circular on December 7, the home ministry said the establishment ministry would take necessary steps to translate the EC plans.
However, the general administrative committee of the SC headed by the chief justice recently concluded that only the experienced judicial magistrates should be engaged to administer justice with regard to electoral offences, said sources in the SC registrar's office.
It observed that as jurisdictions of the judicial and executive magistrates are clearly delineated, the latter need not be entrusted with the authority of the former.
Besides, the SC committee noted, there being enough judicial magistrates at the district level obviates the need for executive magistrates to deal with serious breaches of electoral laws.
The registrar's office communicated the decision to the EC and the establishment ministry.
On receiving the SC opinions, the EC decided to write to the top court for deployment of judicial magistrates. This ends the controversy over the commission's plans.
Legal experts had been strongly opposing the EC's decision to entrust the executive magistrates with the authority to try electoral offences that are punishable with both imprisonment and fine.
The EC also decided to ask the law ministry to delete Representation of the People Order (RPO) from the schedule of Mobile Court Ordinance 2007, said a source.
The law ministry on November 16 included the RPO there to empower the executive magistrates to hold trial for electoral offences.
Legal experts said the inclusion has become unlawful following the SC observations.
In Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), only judicial magistrates are authorised to try electoral offences that are grave in nature and punishable by both imprisonment and fine.
An individual can be sentenced to up to seven years in jail and fine for electoral offences on the polling day, according to the RPO.
But executive magistrates, who are employed to maintain law and order, do not have the authority to award imprisonment. As per the Mobile Court Ordinance 2007, they can only slap fine.
The RPO says magistrates are to be assigned on the election day to hold summary trial for electoral offences under sections 73, 78, 79, 80, 81 (1) and 82.
The offences include interfering or attempting to interfere when a voter casts his vote, defacing or destroying a ballot paper, creating obstacles to polling or counting of votes, resorting to violence, and intimidating voters or those connected with election activities or duties.