ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday heard petitions against the recently passed contempt of court law, DawnNews reported.
A five-judge bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and including Justice Shakirullah Jan, Justice Khilji Arif Hussain, Justice Jawad S Khawaja and Justice Tassadduq Hussain Jilani, heard 27 identical petitions challenging the Contempt of Court Act, 2012.
Petitioner Ahsanuddin Sheikh who is also president of the Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA) of Rawalpindi was presenting his arguments before the bench.
Sheikh said the parliament had passed the new contempt of court law in a rush and that it did not have the authority to curtail the judiciary's freedom.
Sheikh also read out the record of the parliamentary debate over the law before the bench.
In his remarks, Justice Khawaja said that the bench could review the debate held in the parliament.
He moreover said that parliamentary proceedings could not be challenged in any court of law and that they enjoyed protection under Article 69 of the Constitution.
However, he inquired regarding the rationale behind the drafting of the law, adding that the parliamentary debate was revealing with respect to the new law's legislation.
The bench later adjourned the hearing until tomorrow (Friday).
Earlier during Wednesday’s hearing, dropping a hint that the controversial contempt of court act would not be struck down in toto, the Supreme Court observed that the opposition should have resisted the passage of the law in the parliament instead of walking out of the house. The opposition should have stayed in the parliament to resist the ruling party’s move, said Chief Justice Iftikhar.
Justice Khilji Arif Hussain described walkouts as an injustice with the electorate.
Only two clauses of the new law – one pertaining to immunity for holders of public office against contempt of court proceedings and the other about an automatic stay on the filing of an appeal – appeared to be areas of concern for the court and during the proceedings judges spoke about their respect for the parliament.
Legal experts are of the opinion that the two controversial clauses may be sent back by the court to the parliament for review.
Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja was the only judge who rejected the theory of parliament’s supremacy and recalled that the court had struck down statutes in the past as well.
The contempt of court law had been hurriedly passed by the ruling government in a bid to protect the incumbent prime minister from facing the same fate as his predecessor.
The law exempts “holders of public office” from the mischief of contempt in “exercise of powers and performance of functions” and allows for suspension of a sentence during the pendency of an appeal.
The main opposition party in the National Assembly, the PML-N, had objected to the passage of the law saying it was not sent to relevant standing committees for deliberation.
In all there are 27 petitions against the act and one of the petitioners, Baz Muhammad Kakar, contends that Section 3(i) of the new act curtailed the power and jurisdiction of the court under Article 204(2) of the Constitution to punish ‘any person’ who abused, interfered with or obstructed the process of the court in any way or disobeyed any order of the court.
It also violated Article 25 which guaranteed equal protection of the laws, he said.
A petition filed on behalf of the Save Judiciary Movement by Advocate Hashmat Habib pleads that the law should be struck down because it goes against the Quran and Sunnah and the Contempt of Court Ordinance of 2003 be restored.