The legal dispute between showbiz stars Meesha Shafi and Ali Zafar landed in the Supreme Court on Thursday, with the apex court taking up an appeal filed by the former challenging the Lahore High Court order through which her plea for joint cross-examination of witnesses was rejected.
Shafi had moved the top court in April after the rejection of her petition by the LHC to have the statements of Zafar’s witnesses recorded and their cross-examination conducted in separate hearings, instead of turn-by-turn examination.
Shafi, who is fighting a defamation case filed by Zafar over allegations of sexual harassment, had earlier approached a trial court and later the high court, noting that the failure to conduct the witnesses’ testimonies and their cross-examination in separate hearings “would be amounting to extending undue favour to the plaintiff”.
She had also stated that “cross-examining witnesses on the basis of their statements only and without knowing them would be impossible”.
Both courts had turned down Shafi’s petitions, with the LHC stating that the request was “devoid of any merit” as the defendant was cognisant of the witnesses’ names and has had reasonable time to prepare for cross-examination.
At the start of today's hearing, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, who was heading a three-member bench, asked Shafi's counsel under which law he wanted the testimonies of all the witnesses to be recorded together.
He said it was for the court to decide how the statements of the witnesses will be recorded, telling the lawyer that the court could not do the same "according to your wishes".
Shafi's lawyer argued that he wanted to establish before the court "what had transpired during the jam session", during which Shafi had accused Zafar of harassing her.
After questioning the counsel about his experience practising law, Justice Ahsan asked the lawyer whether he had ever observed in his 11-year career that the statements of all witnesses were recorded together and then they were cross-examined later.
"There is no such precedent in my 30-year judicial experience," the judge remarked.
But Shafi's lawyer maintained that he could cite several past court judgements to support his client's appeal.
"You cannot because there are zero court precedents," Justice Ahsan retorted.
The lawyer further argued that the court had talked about the issue in several past verdicts.
"A court judgement is not some divine script," Justice Ahsan replied, reminding the lawyer that court judgements "can also be wrong".
The lawyer representing Zafar informed the bench the statement of one out of 11 witnesses has already been recorded.
The court adjourned further hearing of the case until next week, when the lawyer for Zafar will resume his arguments.
Sexual harassment allegations
In April last year, Shafi had alleged on Twitter that fellow musician and actor Zafar had sexually harassed her on multiple occasions.
"I have been subjected, on more than one occasion, to sexual harassment of a physical nature at the hands of a colleague from my industry: Ali Zafar. These incidences did not happen when I was young, or just entering the industry.
"This happened to me despite the fact that I am an empowered, accomplished woman who is known for speaking her mind! This happened to me as a mother of two children," she had claimed.
Hours after Shafi's tweets, Zafar released a statement categorically denying "any and all claims of harassment lodged against me by [Shafi]".
He then filed a defamation case against Shafi for damages worth Rs1 billion in June 2018.
Shafi in a response to the petition in Oct 2018 stated that Zafar had harassed her on more than two occasions. "Ali Zafar harassed [me] at a private studio and family functions," she said.
She stated that she had been "compelled" to take action against Zafar because of the harassment incidents, adding that Zafar had harassed several female artists other than herself.
"I will also provide evidence [of the allegations] when the court asks for it," Shafi had said.