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President signs contempt of court bill into law

President Asif Ali Zardari.—File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani president on Thursday signed a new bill into law providing blanket immunity to top government functionaries for their executive actions.

President Asif Ali Zardari signed the Contempt of Court Bill 2012, under which, if an accused or convict of contempt of court files an appeal, his/her show-cause notice or original order will remain suspended till final disposal of the matter.

The law also states: “An accused person may also at any stage submit an apology and the court, if satisfied, may discharge him or remit his sentence.”

The bill was passed by Senate on Wednesday after being earlier approved by the National Assembly on Monday amid protest from opposition lawmakers.

A couple of petitioners have already challenged the law in the apex court, terming it a mala fide act on the part of the government against the judiciary. Most legal experts are of the view the Supreme Court wouldn’t look at it favourably.

The bill states: “A true averment made in good faith and temperate language for initiation of action or in the course of disciplinary proceedings against a judge, before the chief justices of the Supreme Court and high courts, the Supreme Judicial Council and the federal or provincial governments, shall not amount to contempt of court.”

The new law also has an overriding effect and the erstwhile Contempt of Court Act 1976 and the contempt of court ordinances 2003 and 2004 will stand repealed after its passage from Parliament and signature by the President.

Besides protecting powers and performance of holders of public office mentioned in Article 248 of the Constitution, which include the president, prime minister, governors, chief ministers, federal and state ministers, the proposed contempt of court act 2012 also shields ‘any authority’ against the contempt charges.

One of its clauses reads as “remarks made in an administrative capacity by any authority in the course of official business, including those in connection with a disciplinary inquiry or in an inspection note or a character roll or confidential” shall not amount to contempt of court.

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