ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is all set to follow PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif by becoming the second prime minister to be served a show-cause notice for contempt of court.
On Monday, a seven-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk issued the order once it was evident that the government had no response to the six options laid down at the last hearing on the implementation of the NRO judgment.
He will also be the second prime minister to appear before the court if he turns up at the Supreme Court building on Thursday.
However, this will not be Gilani's first visit there; he first dropped in on Feb 16, 2010, and gate-crashed a dinner hosted by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry in honour of Justice (retd) Khalilur Rehman Ramday.
The gesture was intended to defuse a tug of war between the executive and the judiciary that had been started by President Asif Ali Zardari's decision to ignore a request to appoint Justice Ramday as an ad hoc judge of the apex court after he retired.
This time around, the prime minister will have to appear before the bench for his refusal to write a letter to Swiss authorities for reopening cases against President Zardari.
And ironically, the attorney general will have to act as a prosecutor.
"In the circumstances we have left with no option but to issue show-cause notice under Section 17 of the Ordinance 5 of 2003 read with Article 204 of the Constitution to the prime minister as to why he should not be proceeded against for contempt of the court," the court said in its order.
Under Section 17(2) of the Ordinance 5, the prime minister would have to personally appear before the court on January 19, it said.
If dissatisfied with the explanation, the court could indict the prime minister for committing contempt and initiate a trial. However, the prime minister can continue in the office till the case ends. Section 19 of the contempt law also provides an intra-court appeal before a larger bench of the court which can even suspend the conviction.
However, the law makes it possible for the 'contemnor' to tender an apology at any stage.
The contempt notice did not surprise anyone. Legal experts were confident that the Supreme Court would opt for this move out of the six options when Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq told the bench that he had received no instructions from the government as to what to say.
The AG tried to delay the inevitable for as long as he could.
First he did not turn up before the bench in the morning.
When the case was taken up after a break, he finally appeared to inform the court that he waited till 2am last night but did not get any instruction.
Dismayed by the response, the court then retired for the second time in a day and returned to announce that it had no option but to proceed with contempt of the court.Legal experts were not sure of what the future would hold.
Now the prime minister will have to answer the notice but with caution so that he dispels the impression that he is ridiculing the institution of the judiciary, Justice (retd) Tariq Mehmood said.
Today is an unfortunate day, Advocate Zafar Ali Shah said, adding that the prime minister had embarrassed politicians on the advice of his aides.
Former Supreme Court Bar Association president Qazi Anwar said no damage would be caused to the president even if the government decided to write a letter to the Swiss authorities.
ED: Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, who had announced the Jan 10 order outlining the six options, expressed concern over the reports that the court had called the prime minister 'not honest', adding that the media had wrongly interpreted the order without properly reading it.
"We never said the prime minister is corrupt, " Justice Khosa said, adding that Gilani was a responsible and honourable person and that the sentence was lifted out of context.
"The president and the prime minister did not bother to respond to our orders and this reflected their seriousness. Either they do not want to contest or they have no objection to whatever we decide," Justice Khosa observed.
In 1997, a similar contempt notice was issued against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif for making a speech against the judiciary in parliament. Although Sharif had appeared before the court and apologised, it refused to accept his gesture and indicted him. The case soured the relationship between the judiciary and the executive so much that on Nov 28, 1997, PML-N supporters forcibly entered and vandalised the court premises.
Eventually, a case of rowdyism was registered against them.
The standoff between the two organs of the state ended with the departure of then chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah.