LAHORE, June 27: A full bench of the Lahore High Court gave an opportunity to President Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday to disassociate his office from political activities in accordance with an order issued by a larger bench on May 12 last year.
The bench headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Ijazul Ahsan was hearing petitions calling for contempt of court proceedings against the president for continuing to hold political activities and the office of co-chairman of the PPP.
The petitions were filed by Advocates Rana Ilamudin Ghazi and Munir Ahmad.
The chief justice adjourned the hearing till Sept 5 and observed that the court would issue an appropriate order if the president failed to implement the order of the larger bench by the next date.
The bench directed the attorney general’s office to convey its order to the president. He remarked that although the larger bench had only said that it expected the president to relinquish political activities, but it did not mean that the court order was to be ignored.
Earlier, the bench expressed dismay over non-appearance of the federal law officer. “This is regrettable that the law officers do not come to assist the courts,” the chief justice said.
Additional Attorney General Abdul Hayee Gillani told the bench that the notice had not been served on the authorities and he came to know from media about the court proceedings.
He requested the court to defer its proceedings till a notice was received by the government. The bench turned down the request and asked petitioner’s counsel A.K. Dogar to proceed with his arguments.
At the last hearing, the court had issued a notice to the principal secretary to the president.
Mr Dogar argued that the court had declared on May 12 last year that holding a political office (PPP co-chairman) by President Zardari and subsequent political activities in the presidency were unconstitutional. But, he said, the president had not given up the political office nor disassociated himself from political activities although more than a year had passed.
Chief Justice Bandial asked the counsel that if the president enjoyed immunity under Article 248 of the Constitution. The counsel said the case pertained to contempt of civil nature and the court was to get its order implemented. The chief justice observed that the court should give a considerable time to the president to implement its order. The counsel agreed with the court’s observation.
The larger bench headed by then chief justice Ijaz Ahmad Chaudhry had ruled that the use of presidency for political activities was inconsistent with the sanctity, dignity, neutrality and independence of the presidency.
“Therefore, it is expected that the president of Pakistan would cease the use of the premises of presidency for political meetings of his party,” the judgment said.
In the 33-page judgment the bench had also expected that the president would abide by the declaration of law to disassociate himself from political office at the earliest possible.
The larger bench held ex parte proceedings in the case because the legal panel of the federation had boycotted the proceedings.
The court had mentioned in the judgment that no directions were issued to the president keeping in view the immunity enjoyed by the office of the president under Article 248 of the Constitution.
The court held that the president was exposing himself and his lofty office to a likely controversy that could erode the public trust and respect necessary for such office to represent the unity of the republic. And these actions were being taken not in the discharge of the functions and duties of the president of Pakistan but on account of a personal and private association of the president with his political party.
“These actions, therefore, do not enjoy immunity from the judicial process and call for judicial intervention to enforce the Constitution,” the bench had ruled.