The exhaustive 237-page report of the Judicial Inquiry Commission has helped end the electoral controversies that surfaced in the country following the 2013 General Elections. At the same time, this report is also being criticised by various quarters on various grounds. In general, the current criticism on this report essentially lack objectivity and impartiality. Presently, certain politicians, legal experts, media persons and analysts are actively finding faults with the findings of the JC. However, these critics generally ignore the material facts and fundamental legal aspects of the case while analysing this report.

First of all, as soon as the JC delivered its final report to the government, the PTI chairman readily complained that they were not provided the copy of this report by the Judicial Commission. As this commission was constituted at the request of the federal government which also referred the matter to the commission for inquiry, therefore this body was legally bound to deliver its report to the federal government only. In fact, this is only an inquiry report instead of a court verdict, whose copies are supplied to all the parties after the conclusion of a trial. The federal government has made this report public in no time after it received it.

Secondly, this Commission is being criticised for shifting the burden of proof on the PTI and other opposition parties. According to the established principles of the law of evidence, the burden of proof is always on the party which alleges a specific charge rather than a party who denies it. As PTI has long been levelling rigging allegation against PML-N, and demanding the formation of an inquiry commission, therefore, morally and legally, it was bound to produce evidence in support of its allegation once this commission was formed. As a matter of fact, it was not a ‘burden of proof’ but a sort of ‘opportunity of proving’ the allegations of electoral rigging provided to the opposition parties. Besides summoning witnesses at the request of opposition parties, the Inquiry Commission has also summoned and interrogated a lot of witnesses at its own instance during the proceedings. If the opposition parties were not allowed to summon and cross-examine their desired witnesses, then they would certainly have now complaining about not providing an opportunity to prove their case before the commission.

Thirdly, this report is also being criticised on the ground that the JC, despite acknowledging the fact of certain electoral irregularities committed by the polling staff during the last general election, has ignored altogether these irregularities while giving its verdict. Under section 70 of the Representation of People Act, 1976, an election tribunal can only declare the election in a single constituency null and void on the basis of any electoral rigging or irregularity, only when the magnitude of this irregularity or rigging is sufficient to ‘materially affect’ the result. Now, if an election tribunal can’t legally overturn the result of a single constituency on the basis of minor irregularities, then how should one expect the JC to declare the result of 272-seat general elections void on the basis of certain irregularities in some constituencies?

Fourthly, the PTI is also complaining about not including the intelligence agencies like ISI and MI in this Commission. Earlier, PTI has also demanded to include these agencies in the proposed commission. However, this demand of the PTI was rather unjustified and irrational. In fact, there is no such thing as a ‘Joint Investigation Commission’ in the law. As this commission was comprised of three senior judges of the apex court including the Chief Justice of Pakistan, it was quite inappropriate to include the officials of intelligence agencies in this premier body. If these agencies had any evidence regarding the electoral rigging, then they could easily produce this evidence before the Commission.

Now, lastly, a lot of people are criticising the JC for not suggesting and recommending the electoral reforms in the country in its report. In fact, this commission was an inquiry body rather than a judicial reform committee. It should not be forgotten that the powers and scope of this commission were all dependent on its TOR’s which hardly contained such mandate or task. This commission was only constituted to ascertain the authenticity and legality of the 2013 General Elections.

Being a legal body, the JC was supposed to give its verdict on the basis of facts of the case and evidence produced before it. It didn’t reject the result of last general elections only because there were no legal grounds for doing so. Unlike its earlier tall claims of producing ‘truckload of evidence’, PTI didn’t produce anything substantial before the Judicial Commission in support of its rigging allegations.

PTI has accused the former CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry of manipulating 2013 general elections with the help of RO’s. It has also been blaming Najam Sethi, the former caretaker Punjab chief minster for repairing ‘35 punctures’ in these elections to the benefit of PML-N. Similarity, a particular TV channel and its owner were also bashed for airing an early victory speech of Nawaz Sharif in the late hours of May 11, 2013. Finally, it was alleged that PML-N had managed to illegally print some extra ballot papers by hiring 200 printing workers from Urdu Bazar Lahore. However, inconsistent with its earlier rigging allegations, Najam Sethi was not asked any questions about his so-called 35 punctures by the PTI when he was summoned by the commission. Similarly, PTI didn’t request the commission to summon former CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry as well as the owner of a TV channel whom it had been accusing of foul-play in the past.

In order to end political impasse in the country, and to pacify the PTI, the federal government has also acted beyond certain legal and constitutional parameters. Under Article 225 of the constitution of Pakistan, an election tribunal duly constituted by the ECP is the only legal forum for the resolution of electoral disputes. However, ignoring this constitutional provision, the federal government formed this inquiry body by promulgating the General Elections-2013 Inquiry Commission Ordinance, 2015. Similarity, quite contrary to its legal scope as a probe body, the JC has allowed the opposition parties to summon and cross-examined the witness of their choice. Therefore, before criticising the JC and its report, all the extra-legal favours, granted to the opposition parties by the federal government and the JC, should also be kept in mind.

It must also not be forgotten that the JC is not the only forum where PTI has lost its case. Earlier, various PTI candidates had already failed to prove any kind of electoral rigging in various election tribunals across the country. The much-trumpeted decision of election tribunal on two seats (NA-125, PP-155) has been suspended by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Therefore, it is quite unfair, and rather unjustified, to criticise the report and conduct the members of the JC. These judges of the apex court should be appreciated for playing an important role in legally resolving a prolonged political conflict in the country by patiently and diligently conducting the inquiry proceedings involving some complex legal and political questions.