Contempt of court: What the NA Speaker may face if the no-confidence vote doesn't happen today

The Speaker adjourned the session four times during the day amid the opposition's protest.
Published April 9, 2022

If there's one thing that the last few weeks have taught us, it is that the PTI government will go to any lengths to cling on to power.

Only last week, the Deputy Speaker, at the behest of the Prime Minister, openly violated the Constitution to disallow a no-confidence vote from being conducted against the premier. The move came in the wake up of a conspiracy theory being propagated from the highest office, accusing the opposition of colluding with a foreign state for bringing about a regime change in the country.

But all of these actions seem to pale in comparison to what the National Assembly witnessed on Saturday — that too, during a session convened on the orders of the Supreme Court.

In its unanimous verdict delivered on Thursday, the Supreme Court had set aside the Deputy Speaker's ruling to dismiss the no-confidence motion and all other subsequent orders passed by the premier and the President. The court order had also clearly defined how the session was to be conducted. Here is what the order stated with regard to the proceedings:

The Speaker is under a duty to summon and hold a sitting of the Assembly in the present Session, and shall do so immediately and in any case not later than 10:30am on Saturday 09.04.2022 to conduct the business of the house as per the Orders of the Day that had been issued for 03.04.2022 and in terms as stated in, and required by, Article 95 of the Constitution read with Rule 37 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the National Assembly Rules, 2007 ("Rules").

When the session commenced on Saturday, the Speaker gave the floor to Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif, followed by Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Asad Umar and several other lawmakers, each of whom gave long-winded speeches castigating the other side.

Amid all this, the Speaker adjourned the session four times during the day, even as the opposition lawmakers protested, terming the proceedings in contravention of the SC verdict.

The Speaker, for his part, kept insisting that he was conducting the session strictly in line with the Supreme Court's verdict.

But is he? And what can the court do if he isn't?

According to lawyer Abdul Moiz Jaferii, the Supreme Court had ordered that the Speaker is under a duty to summon the National Assembly session today and to conduct the business of the house as per the orders of the day as listed on 03.04.2022, and to ensure the requirements of art 95 read with rule 37.

The latter two provisions of the Constitution and the law require voting on the vote of no-confidence to the exclusion of all other business and within a timeframe already violated by the Speaker.

The Speaker is now violating an express order of the court, and is doing so with assistance from the panel of chairmen, one of whom presided over the afternoon session and nonchalantly quoted piecemeal from the Constitution to suit his own designs as has become a hallmark of the PTI.

The speaker and his associated members of the chair are already acting maliciously and against the spirit of the court order by allowing for points of order and business other than the vote of no-confidence. They will be in clear contempt if they let this go on beyond today.

Reparations to this can come in the form of the Supreme Court itself taking notice as its order was of a suo moto nature. Otherwise, the opposition may move the relevant application before the court alleging contempt to achieve the same result.

The PTI's own lawmakers argue that the court cannot dictate how the parliamentary proceedings are conducted as per Article 69 of the Constitution — which in fact protects officers and members of the parliament from the jurisdiction of courts where they are exercising powers for the regulation of procedure or for maintaining order in parliament.

In this case, however, the failure to abide by the constitutional requirement to hold a vote of no confidence is not a procedural lapse, but a constitutional violation. This is the declaration of the Supreme Court. In continuing this mad hatter method of constitutional interpretation, the Speaker and his associates are violating the Constitution and in contempt of court orders.

For lawyer Basil Nabi Malik, it would be pure and simple contempt. The government is making a mockery of the law. The directions of the Supreme Court could not have been clearer, and the orders of the court have to be followed in letter and spirit.

Interestingly, many had been arguing earlier that the detailed nature of the instructions given by the Supreme Court may have been a case of judicial oversight. However, with the events unfolding as they are, more and more are in a better position to appreciate as to why the Supreme Court did what it did and why the need for such specific instructions was considered imperative.

As such, in a situation where the Speaker chooses not to conduct the vote of no-confidence, contempt proceedings may commence against the Speaker, amongst others, as well as implementation proceedings. Considering that the doors of the Supreme Court and the Islamabad High Court have been purportedly opened up at this late hour, it appears that implementation of the orders of the court, as well as possible contempt proceedings, are high on the priority of the judicial organs of Pakistan.

Meanwhile, lawyer Salahuddin Ahmed tweeted an even starker scenario.

"If the Speaker or Deputy Speaker [sic] continue refusal to implement VONC order, SC can restrain them from presiding over session & direct (as per Rule 13) such member from Panel of Chairmen as is ready to comply," he said.

"If none ready, then Assembly to nominate by majority. Compliance of order to be ensured by Sergeant [sic] of Arms of the Assembly who may be permitted to seek assistance of Pakistan Rangers or any other LEA as required."

Lawyer Salman Akram Raja said "the SC order can be enforced in a session of the NA presided over by any member."