ISLAMABAD, July 10: The race is on to be the first to file a petition in the Supreme Court challenging a bill relating to contempt of court that is yet to become a law.
While the Contempt of Court Bill 2012 is yet to be approved by the 100-member Senate after which it is to be sent to the president for assent, Muhammad Siddique Khan Baloch and Syed Mehmood Akhtar Naqvi filed two separate petitions before the court on Tuesday.
On Monday night, the National Assembly passed the new law to substitute the Contempt of Court Ordinance V of 2003 perceived to be aimed at protecting new Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf whose government has to make known its intention before the Supreme Court on July 12 about writing a letter to the Swiss authorities for reopening graft cases worth $60 million against President Asif Ali Zardari.
It was under the ordinance of 2003 that former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his cabinet had been sent home for committing contempt by not implementing the NRO verdict which asked for writing the letter.
“We have not challenged the act, but the bill,” Siddique Baloch said when asked why he had moved the petition when the bill was yet to become a law.
Talking to Dawn, he said he was confident that his case would be taken up by the Supreme Court soon.
His counsel Advocate Muhammad Ikram Chaudhry said the court office had not yet returned the petition.
The other petitioner is Akhtar Naqvi whose earlier petition led to the move for the 22nd Amendment after the membership of a number of parliamentarians had been suspended for having dual nationality.
“One should wait instead of showing haste in filing such petitions because in such case the mover finds no time to research and find out case laws for arguments,” said senior Supreme Court lawyer Raja Muqsit Nawaz.
He, however, explained the reason behind the tendency to rush such petitions.
It is a common feature that a number of petitions are filed by people from different walks of life, but a particular case is usually known by the person who filed it first because it finds the top position in the cause list, thus making the mover a popular man in the judicial history.
For instance, he said, the renowned challenge to the NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance) was always known by the Dr Mubashir Hassan case, although a number of petitions had been filed against the ordinance.
Raja Muqsit said the apex court could strike down a law only after examining its vires, if the law impinged on the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution or militated against the independence of judiciary, aimed at curtailing the authority of the judiciary.
By filing such petitions and openly claiming that these would be upheld meant pre-empting the court’s verdict even before it had been argued, thus tarnishing the image of judiciary in the eyes of the people, he said.
“To anticipate a verdict on a case which is not even pending before the court is itself contempt,” commented a senior court officer, adding that propriety demanded that issues not yet before the court should not be discussed at all.
About the proposed contempt law, he said that except for three additions -- immunity to the holders of public office under Article 248(1) of the Constitution, right to appeal that suspends the conviction and expunged part of a discussion in parliament not to be taken as evidence -- the latest law was the exact rendition of the 1976 contempt law.
Additional Advocate General of Punjab Jawwad Hassan said an aggrieved person could approach the court only when there was some legislative, executive or administrative action against him.
“No action, no remedy or no action no res (case),” he said, adding that no one should give his mind before anything had happened.
Otherwise, he added, it would mean pre-conceived notion and, therefore, would be biased.
In his petition, Siddique Baloch requested the court to declare that the law showed lack of legislative competence and the federal government had unconstitutionally and unlawfully attempted to make the constitutional provisions ineffective through the new law.
Akhtar Naqvi contended that the bill was against Article 25 of the Constitution which ensured equality of citizens.