ISLAMABAD/LONDON: Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah on Monday took notice of a news story claiming that former chief justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar influenced the judicial proceedings to prolong the detention of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz following their conviction in the Avenfield apartments reference.

The IHC issued notices to senior journalist Ansar Abbasi, the editor-in-chief and editor of The News and former chief judge of Gilgit-Baltistan Rana Mohammad Shamim Ahmed Khan under the Contempt of Court Ordinance and directed them to appear in person on Tuesday (today).

Accountability court judge Mohammad Bashir had days before the general elections in 2018 convicted Mr Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and her husband retired Capt Mohammad Safdar in the Avenfield reference on July 6 that year and sent them to Adiala jail. They were released in September 2018 following the suspension of their sentence.

Reporter, editor and GB’s former chief judge directed to appear in person today; oath statement by Justice Rana notarised at a London-based public notary service on Nov 10

The news item published in The News on Monday referred to an affidavit on oath of the former chief judge of the Supreme Appellate Court of Gilgit-Baltistan and claimed that then CJP Nisar had made a phone call to an IHC judge for lingering the petition seeking release of Mr Sharif and Maryam Nawaz on bail until the 2018 general elections were over.

The IHC chief justice took up a report submitted to him by the court’s registrar that highlighted the news item.

Justice Minallah remarked that the IHC respected the freedom of expression, but scandalising the judiciary could not be tolerated in any manner.

Following the brief proceedings, the court issued a written order stating: “The registrar has drawn attention to a news item published in The News on Monday, November 15, 2021, titled ‘Saqib Nisar directed not to release Nawaz, Maryam before 2018 elections’.”

It said the news item had been reported by Ansar Abbasi. It was further reported that the news item was relating to pending appeals, which were fixed for hearing before a learned division bench of this court on Nov 17, 2021, it added.

“The news item refers to some affidavit executed under oath by a former chief justice of the Supreme Appellate Court of Gilgit-Baltistan, Rana Mohammad Shamim Ahmed Khan. It has been reported that the latter claims that he was a witness to a telephonic conversation by retired Justice Saqib Nisar, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, whereby the latter had purportedly directed an honourable judge of this court ‘not to release Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz on bail at any cost before the 2018 general elections’.

“The report has also stated that Mr Rana Mohammad Shamim confirmed executing such an affidavit when he was contacted,” the order said.

Justice Minallah noted that trial outside a court in any form which tends to influence the proceedings and determination in a pending matter attracts the offence of criminal contempt.

“The report published in The News, prima facie, tends to influence the proceedings and determination in a pending matter and having the effect of obstructing the administration of justice and/or to divert the cause of justice because no such affidavit forms part of the judicial record,” he pointed out.

“The publishing of reports during the pendency of a matter is the most serious form of contempt. Likewise, the aforementioned published report, prima facie, amounts to prejudicing public confidence in the administration of justice in a pending matter, besides scandalising this court,” the order said.

The court noted that maintaining integrity of the administration of justice is in the public interest. “The aforementioned publication, prima facie, appears to undermine public confidence in the impartiality and independence of this court and its honourable judges. Safeguarding the dignity and decorum of this court and the administration of justice is inevitable for upholding the rule of law and to ensure that disputes are decided in a fair and uninfluenced manner,” it added.

Subsequently, Justice Minallah directed the registrar office to issue notices to Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman, Editor Aamir Ghouri and Ansar Abbasi of ‘The News International of the Jang Group of Newspapers’, as well as Rana Mohammad Shamim, asking them to appear in person at 10:30am on November 16 (today) “to explain why proceedings under the Contempt of Court Ordinance, 2003, may not be initiated against them, read with Article 204 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973”.

The court also sought the assistance of the attorney general for Pakistan and advocate general for Islamabad in the matter.

Oath statement

The oath statement by the former chief judge of Gilgit-Baltistan, which has taken Islamabad by storm, was notarised at a London-based public notary service on November 10. This has raised speculations whether Rana Mohammad Shamim had met Nawaz Sharif, who has been in London since November 2019.

The Sharifs have maintained silence over the statement thus far. When asked to comment on whether the former GB judge met Mr Sharif, Hussain Nawaz said: “For legal reasons, we cannot answer this question.”

However, sources told Dawn that the former judge had made a brief stop in London this month when he was en route to the United States.

During his visit, retired Justice Rana went to a notary service across the Charing Cross station and made his statement about former CJP Saqib Nisar’s alleged pressure on judge Amir Farooq to deny bail to Mr Sharif and Maryam Nawaz.

Justice Nisar denies the allegations.

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2021

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