LAHORE: The Punjab government’s counsel told a three-judge bench of the Lahore High Court on Monday that the Model Town inquiry report had become a “dead document” as the purpose for which it was conducted stood exhausted.
“However, the report can be presented to the judges of this bench in camera for personal analysis,” Advocate Khwaja Harris made the offer during his concluding arguments on an intra-court appeal challenging the order of making the inquiry report public passed by a single judge.
Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh heads the full bench along with Justice Syed Shahbaz Ali Rizvi and Justice Qazi Mohammad Amin Ahmad. The court will resume hearing on Nov 9.
Before closing his lengthy arguments, Advocate Harris referred to different judgements of local and international jurisdictions in support of the privilege enjoyed by the government whether to release a judicial inquiry report or not.
Punjab govt says the report, if publicised, would influence the minds of judges hearing cases connected with the incident
The report, if publicised, would definitely influence the minds of judges hearing cases connected with the incident and prejudice the right to fair trial of accused facing charges in both FIRs of the Model Town episode. Faisal Town police had lodged two cases — one on the complaint of a cop/state and the other on an application of Idara Minhajul Quran following a court order.
Advocate Harris said a private complaint filed by the organisation was also pending before an antiterrorism court in addition to trials in the FIRs.
Without discussing the ‘objectionable’ content of the report, he said it could harm religious sentiments in society and a debate in media would be generated leading to public pre-judgement, which would certainly prejudice the trial proceedings not only in the Model Town case but also other trials.
Relying upon Article 204 (c) of the Constitution, which deals with contempt of court, Mr Harris said a court could punish anyone for doing anything that tends to prejudice the determination of a matter pending before the court. The principle of presumption of innocence would also be disturbed, which was a part of right to life, he said, adding that no one could be treated as convicted before conviction.
Initially, one of the judges at the bench did not think it necessary to view the report when the offer was made by the counsel. However, after consultation, the bench agreed to examine the report in camera at the next hearing.
Advocate Azhar Siddique objected that no order by any authority had been passed with regard to privilege of the government to withhold the report. He represents ‘heirs’ of 2014 Model Town incident’s victims who were petitioners before the single bench, which ordered the government to make the report public. He said somebody must have come to a conclusion that the report could not be released.
Advocate Harris responded that the petitioners never approached any forum for the purpose and kept filing petitions in courts. And the government was to defend its privilege before the court.
Advocate Siddique and Advocate Khwaja Ahmad Tariq Rahim would resume their arguments in support of the single-judge decision and against the government’s appeal at the next hearing.
Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi had on Sept 21 ordered the Punjab home secretary to public the “Justice Najafi report” on the Model Town carnage and also provide it to the families of those killed and injured in the incident.
The government had challenged the decision, pleading its power to not release a report of judicial inquiry. It also questioned the manner in which the single bench took up and decided the petition of the incident’s ‘victims’. The government argued that proceedings of a judicial commission were not judicial in nature and the executive had the right to publicise it or not.
Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2017