IHC appoints AG as prosecutor in Rana Shamim affidavit case

Published January 1, 2022
Former Gilgit-Baltistan chief justice Rana Shamim arrives at the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV
Former Gilgit-Baltistan chief justice Rana Shamim arrives at the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has appointed Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan as prosecutor in the contempt of court case against former chief judge of Gilgit-Baltistan Rana Mohammad Shamim, Editor-in-Chief of the Jang Media Group Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman, and senior journalists Ansar Abbasi and Aamir Ghauri in connection with a news report about an affidavit that accused former Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar of trying to delay the release from prison of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz.

The appointment of a prosecutor in the affidavit case came to light on Friday when IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah issued a written order about the court proceedings held on Tuesday.

Regarding Mr Shamim’s affidavit that was delivered to the IHC in a sealed envelope, the order said: “The sealed package received through the courier service DHL from the United Kingdom was handed over by the Registrar to Rana Mohammad Shamim. It contained another envelop having the seal of DHL. It contained a document, which was confirmed by Rana Mohammad Shamim to be the same affidavit [that was] executed by him in the United Kingdom on Nov 10, 2021 and notarised by Charles D. Guthrie, Solicitor.”

Justice Minallah issues written order about court proceedings held on Tuesday

The document was sealed again by the court’s registrar for its safe custody, said the order.

The court noted that the contents of the affidavit were mentioned in a report published in the English newspaper The News International on Nov 15, that is five days after its execution. The affidavit related to pending proceedings and the appeals preferred by the persons mentioned therein were fixed before a division bench on Nov 17.

The contents of the affidavit, as reported in the daily, cast aspersions on the IHC and its judges, and also prima facie appeared to be an attempt to influence the court’s proceedings, and obstruct and interfere with due administration of justice, wrote Chief Justice Minallah.

He pointed out that the document was not part of any judicial record nor presented before any other authority. It appeared that the news report had been published by the newspaper without taking reasonable care.

According to the order, the timing of the affidavit’s execution and publication of a news report soon afterwards was a crucial factor because of its consequences for the pending judicial proceedings and administration of justice.

IHC’s chief justice recalled that Counsel Latif Afridi had argued that the affidavit was not intended to be made public nor meant to be shared with anyone, let alone the reporter in question, Ansar Abbasi.

It had been argued, said the order, that no case of contempt was made out against Mr Shamim because he had taken all reasonable care to ensure that it was neither leaked nor made public in any other manner.

Mr Shamim’s stance that the affidavit could only have been leaked by the Notary Public in London, prima facie, raised serious doubts about his own credibility, the order said.

The silence of the former chief judge of Gilgit-Baltistan for more than three years regarding an alleged grave misconduct on the part of the former Chief Justice of Pakistan also made his trustworthiness and probity questionable, Justice Minallah wrote in his order.

It initially appeared to the court that the role of Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman, Aamir Ghauri and Mr Abbasi was only to the extent of failing to take reasonable care before publishing a news report based on a leaked document. However, the stance of the latter two alleged contemnors is that they were justified in publishing a document, having no evidentiary value whatsoever, because it was in the ‘public interest’.

“This stance does not appear to be in consonance with the best international practices in the field of journalism,” the IHC’s chief justice wrote.

“It does not appear to be the function of a professional journalist to determine the factor of ‘public interest’ and then publish a document having no evidentiary value,” he added.

“If this argument is accepted then anyone including litigants would be justified to indirectly influence the outcome of pending judicial proceedings and resort to ‘media trial’ by using widely circulated newspapers or media channels.”

Justice Minallah also referred to a quote from the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in the case titled WORM V AUSTRIA, Application No. 22714/93. The court had rejected the application of a journalist and had upheld his conviction and sentence for contempt, handed down by the Vienna Court of Appeal. The relevant portion from the judgement is: “This must be borne in mind by journalists when commenting on pending criminal proceedings since the limits of permissible comment may not extend to statements which are likely to prejudice, whether intentionally or not, the chances of a person receiving fair trial or to undermine the confidence of the public in the role of the courts in the administration of criminal justice.”

Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2022

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