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CJP’s remarks

Updated April 25, 2018

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AN unfortunate and unnecessary war of words is continuing, obscuring some very real problems that need to be addressed.

Perhaps angered or distracted by a short trip to the UK to visit his ailing wife, Nawaz Sharif launched into a deeply ill-advised tirade against the judiciary on Monday.

It is not clear what Mr Sharif hopes to achieve with such outbursts.

The PML-N is still the ruling party at the centre and in Punjab.

If the executive is being impeded or its work disrupted by interference from other institutions, the PML-N governments at the centre and in Punjab can speak for themselves.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif have the platform and the authority to speak against interference and institutional encroachment.

The ousted prime minister is entitled to his opinion, but must be made aware that his intemperate remarks can have destabilising effects on the democratic project.

Surely, that cannot be the goal of the PML-N and Mr Sharif?

If Mr Sharif’s latest comments are troubling, Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar’s remarks from the bench on Monday have potentially far-reaching implications that ought to be clarified.

According to media reports, Chief Justice Nisar remarked that Article 204 of the Constitution, which deals with contempt of court against a high court or the Supreme Court, may need to be given a longer-term effect than the maximum six-month jail sentence prescribed by the Contempt of Court Ordinance, 2003.

It ought to be stressed that the remarks were made during a contempt of court case pertaining to police and other officials convicted of manhandling former chief justice of the Supreme Court Iftikhar Chaudhry.

That issue has now been referred to a larger five-member bench on appeal.

Yet, there are concerns regarding the implications of the remark that the punishment for contempt may be interpreted to extend until “the accused purges himself before the court”.

A recent constitutional analogy may suffice.

In interpreting Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution, the Supreme Court declared that so long as the qualification criterion of Article 62(1)(f) exists and there is a judicial verdict in force that declares a parliamentarian or parliamentary candidate to not meet the standard of “sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen”, the individual is permanently barred from public office.

If a similar lifetime interpretation is applied to Article 204, the constitutional clause dealing with contempt of court, would an individual be kept in jail permanently unless he “purges himself before the court”, presumably by admitting contempt and pleading for the court’s mercy?

As stressed above, the remarks attributed to the chief justice in the media do not constitute the Supreme Court’s final opinion on the matter of contempt.

But it is disquieting that the possibility of lifetime jail sentences for contempt of court has been alluded to by the highest court in the land.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2018