ISLAMABAD: A Supreme Court judge said on Thursday that institutions might be destroyed if the media was given a licence to insult, abuse or demean any judge at any time in whatever manner it liked.
“Media has the right to criticise judgments of courts because when delivered they become public property, but here it is not the question of individuals but of judges,” said Justice Amir Hani Muslim who was sitting on a five-judge bench hearing an intra court appeal (ICA) of ARY TV channel’s chief executive Salman Iqbal and anchorperson Mubashir Lucman. The bench is headed by Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk.
The ICA has been moved to challenge the Oct 13 order of the court indicting the two men over contents of the ‘Khara Such’ talk show aired on May 29 in which anchorperson Lucman allegedly levelled a number of slanderous and defamatory allegations against Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja about his relationship to Mir Shakeelur Rehman, the owner of Geo TV network, and the sale of a property in Lahore to the Punjab government by his (Justice Khawaja’s) wife.
Right to criticise judgments of courts stressed
The court disposed of the ICA because it was not pressed by Mr Lucman when given the opportunity to ponder over suggestions that any observation by the bench might prejudice the contempt trial with which a three-judge Supreme Court bench was seized with.
The proceedings were closed after the court first asked senior counsel Irfan Qadir to consult with his client Lucman who was sitting in the courtroom No. 1 and rose for 15 minutes to let the counsel discuss the matter.
“My client bows down before the observation of the court,” said Mr Qadir when the court assembled again though clarifying that he could not establish contact with Salman Iqbal who was abroad, but would return on Friday.
The withdrawal of the appeal means that the trial court is now free to finally frame charges whenever it resumes hearing against the CEO and the anchorperson for committing contempt of court.
But the counsel tried to convince the court that his client never intended to malign the judiciary and whatever had been stated in the programme was with bonafide intentions to emphasise that courts had always shown restrain and sparingly exercised the jurisdiction of contempt.
At this the chief justice observed that he wondered whether allegations against a judge did not amount to contempt of court.
Mr Qadir said that mere criticism of a judge did not amount to contempt especially when the judge against whom allegations had been levelled said repeatedly that judges were in the public domain and not above criticism.
He stressed the need for drawing a distinction between defamatory and contemptuous statements, adding that the trial court should not have given a vague notice wherein it was never pointed out as to which portions of the transcript of the CD called for initiation of contempt of court proceedings.
In the absence of specific mention of such portions the contempt notice was against the dictates of natural justice.
But the court observed that specific allegations would come when the trial court would frame charges and that the trial court had made up its mind to indict the two after going through the transcripts of the programme.
Justice Asif Saeed Khosa recalled the famous contempt proceedings against former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in which a similar ICA was instituted against the decision to indict Mr Gilani in which an eight-judge larger bench had defined and outlined the scope of a preliminary review.
But, the counsel said, a review was still pending against that order and reservations had been expressed against the judgment both domestically as well as internationally.
The chief justice explained to the counsel that whatever decision had been reached by the trial court would definitely come up in appeal before a bench and there was every likelihood that some of the members of this bench might also be included in the appeal bench.
Published in Dawn, November 21th, 2014