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ISLAMABAD: Accepting a request by singer Meesha Shafi, the Supreme Court on Tuesday granted permission to record testimonies of seven witnesses together in a defamation case instituted by rock star Ali Zafar.

A two-judge SC bench headed by Justice Mushir Alam, which had taken up a petition moved by Ms Shafi challenging the March 27 order of the Lahore High Court, issued a consent order requiring the seven witnesses to submit affidavits in a week with an advance copy to be given to the other party which would take another seven days for preparation.

All the witnesses would be produced together and cross-examined the same day or the following day, the court said, adding that during the process no unnecessary adjournments would be granted. The apex court also asked both Mr Shafi and Mr Zafar to desist from filing unnecessary applications in the courts.

Both Meesha Shafi and Ali Zafar are locked in a dispute, with the latter instituting a defamation suit against the former for accusing him of sexual harassment. Mr Zafar, while denying the allegation, asked a trial court hearing the defamation suit to order Ms Shafi to pay restitution for levelling false allegations and thus damaging his reputation.

In her petition moved through Barrister Haris Azmat, Ms Shafi pleaded before the apex court that the instant case was of first impression in Pakistan since there had been no precedence by the superior courts in which the discretion of the trial court to defer the cross-examination of a witness till the entire set of witnesses of the same event had been examined in chief had been adjudicated upon.

On March 9, Meesha Shafi had filed in the trial court an application seeking examination and cross-examination of Ali Zafar and witnesses together after the recording of their testimonies instead of turn by turn. But the trial court had turned down the request after hearing arguments from both the sides, with an observation that this would cause prejudice to other party. Consequently, the same plea was raised before the LHC which had also dismissed it.

The petition filed in the Supreme Court argued that both the decisions of the high court and the trial court were contrary to the law as they had failed to determine material issues of the law. It contended that the order under review suffered from substantial errors and defects, adding that both courts had failed to recognise the fact that the discretion in which the witnesses had to be examined should be liberally construed in favour of the defendant (Meesha Shafi) so that the objective of fair trial and fair play could be achieved.

Moreover, it said, the courts had also failed to address the genuine and legitimate concern of the petitioner that if she was not allowed to cross-examine a set of witnesses together then her defence would be prematurely disclosed which was going to severely prejudice her case.

The petition contended that it had been consistently held by the superior courts that cross-examination was one of the most valuable rights of the defendant as it was the only vehicle through which the truth and falsity of a witness could be determined. “The cross-examination has been held to be the great engine ever invested for the discovery of the truth and that the opportunity to cross-examine a witness contemplated by the law must be real, fair and reasonable,” the petition argued, adding that the cross-examination was not an empty formality but a valuable right and best method for ascertaining forensic truth.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2019