KARACHI: A full bench of the Sindh High Court with a two-one majority judgment has allowed release of the vintage vehicles imported between 2019 and 2021.
Earlier, a two-member SHC bench had allowed release of imported vintage vehicles impounded by the customs authorities.
While disagreeing with such order, another bench during hearing of an identical petition had referred the matter to the chief justice recommending constitution of a full bench to finally decide the matter.
In the petitions decided by the earlier benches, the petitioners had sought release of vehicles on the basis of SRO 833(I)/2018 issued under Section 19 of the Customs Act 1969 levying certain taxes and duties on import of vintage vehicles.
One member of the full court rules the petitioners cannot seek release of imported vintage vehicles by enforcing an SRO
The full bench comprising Justices Muhammad Shafi Siddiqui, Muhammad Iqbal Kalhoro and Adnan Iqbal Chaudhry considered the proposition as to “whether the subject SRO No. 833(I)/2018 issued in terms of Section 19 of Customs Act, 1969 can also be treated as SRO issued by the Ministry of Commerce in terms of Section 3 of the Import & Export Control Act, 1950, permitting import of vintage cars which are otherwise not importable as being old and used in terms of the Import Policy Order of both 2016 and 2020?”
Justice Siddiqui while dismissing all the petitions held that constraints and restrictions of Section 3(1) of Import & Export Control Act, 1950 were not taken into consideration in the judgement delivered by the first bench in the case of Moin Jamal Abbasi and, therefore, the petitioners could not seek release of their respective vehicles by enforcing the SRO 833(I)/2018 as long as restrictions and prohibitions of Ministry of Commerce in Import Policy Orders, 2016 and 2020 are not relaxed.
Concurring with Justice Siddiqui to the extent that the SRO 833(I)/2018 cannot be treated as an SRO under Section 3(1) of the Imports and Exports (Control) Act, 1950 permitting the ‘import’ of vintage cars, however, Justices Kalhoro and Justice Chaudhry differed with (Justice Siddiqui’s) to consequences of the SRO 833(I)/218.
While allowing the prayer of the petitioners to the extent of release of vintage vehicle, the two judges held: “It is not the case that SRO 833(I)/2018 was issued by the Revenue Division without lawful authority or that it was issued with any mala fides.”
Referring to the arguments advanced by the assistant attorney general and the counsel for the Customs, Advocate Shahab Imam, the two judges observed that both the lawyers accepted that the SRO 833 was to follow in consequence of a SRO under section 3(1) of the Imports and Exports (Control) Act, 1950, also by the federal government albeit through the commerce division, which was to be issued prior to or at least simultaneously with SRO 833 to expressly permit the import of vintage cars, but that was not so done, nor was the SRO 833 recalled.
The two judges also referred to the comments of the federal government, which they observed, conceded that the anomaly in the policies lead to confusion and litigation.
While disposing of all the petitions, Justices Kalhoro and Chaudhry directed the federal government to consider the case of the petitioners for a one-time relaxation/permit of import under clause 21 of the Import Policy Order, 2020 in respect of vintage cars falling under SRO 833(I)/2018 already imported by them, and to decide the same within 10 days.
For the purpose of allowing a one-time relaxation, they ordered that a copy of petitions shall be forwarded by the learned AAG to the commerce division, which shall be treated as applications under clause 21 of the Import Policy Order.