The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday dismissed a petition accusing Prime Minister Imran Khan of contempt of court for his recent remarks on the judiciary, saying the courts do not fear criticism nor are sensitive about it.
The court had earlier in the day reserved its verdict on the maintainability of the petition.
Filed by Advocate Saleemullah Khan yesterday, the petition said that the premier had "committed serious contempt".
It referred to remarks made by the prime minister during a speech he delivered at the inaugural ceremony of Havelian-Mansehra section of the Hazara motorway at Havelian, where he urged Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa and senior judge of the Supreme Court Justice Gulzar Ahmed to restore public confidence in the judiciary. The premier said there was a perceived disparity in how the powerful and common people were treated in the country’s judicial system.
Prime Minister Imran's statements had come days after the Lahore High Court (LHC) issued a verdict allowing former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to travel abroad for four weeks for medical treatment. The LHC, in its order, had also exempted Nawaz from paying the indemnity bond worth Rs7 billion, which the government had demanded from the PML-N supremo as a condition to let him go.
The premier's comments had also garnered a reaction from Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, who said: “Do not hurl taunts at us for favouring the powerful, because everybody is equal before us.”
During the proceedings today, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, who was hearing the petition, asked the appellant: "What problem do you have with the prime minister's speech?"
The petitioner responded that the prime minister had "ridiculed the judiciary".
"The courts welcome criticism," said Justice Minallah. Saleemullah said that there was a "difference between criticism and contempt".
"Do you want a trial of an elected prime minister?" Justice Minallah asked. "Do you know the outcome of such a move? Do you want the prime minister to be disqualified?"
The hearing was adjourned until later in the day, with the IHC subsequently dismissing the petition in limine.
While listing out reasons for rejecting the petition, Justice Minallah wrote in the court's detailed order that, "Without adverting to the contents of the speech, it is noted that courts do not fear criticism nor are sensitive about it.
"The courts do not discourage the exercise of general right of criticism made in good faith and which does not obstruct or impair the administration of justice and the right of a litigant to a fair trial."
The court observed that Prime Minister Imran has been elected to the highest executive public office by the Pakistani people and "his role in the 2007 historic lawyers' movement [...] is indeed acknowledged".
According to the order, the court is satisfied that "regardless of the selection of words", the premier could not have intended to undermine the integrity of the administration of justice or the prestige of the courts.
The court stressed that the benefit of doubt must always go in favour of the representatives of the people. "Even otherwise utmost restraint ought to be exercised in initiating contempt proceedings against an elected prime minister because of its consequences, which may, inter alia, lead to disfranchising the people of Pakistan and depriving them from the right to choose as to who should represent and govern them," it added.
"This court, therefore, presumes that the worthy prime minister was not properly briefed, which had led to the factually incorrect statements made during his speech," the order concluded.