ISLAMABAD: After about a gap of two months, the Islamabad High Court on Thursday issued a detailed judgement that explained reasons for pardoning PTI Chair­man Imran Khan in the contempt proceedings over his threatening speech against a woman judge.

An IHC larger bench comprising former chief justice Athar Minallah, Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri and Justice Babar Sattar had taken up the contempt of court case against Mr Khan. Justice Minallah was elevated to the Supreme Court earlier last month. He, however, authored the judgement before assuming the office of Supreme Court judge. Other members gave their inputs later on.

In the detailed judgement, the bench thrashed out the contempt of court law and its origin. It said that initially, the Contempt of Court Act 1926 was promulgated and enforced on March 8, 1926, according to which, the contemnor could be sentenced up to 18 months imprisonment. However, the law provided pardon over genuine apology of the contemnor.

Explaining the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003, the court pointed out that the ordinance repealed the Contempt of Court Act 1976. The law provided “an opportunity to the person accused of having committed contempt to submit an apology at any stage and its acceptance has been subject to the satisfaction of the court”.

Detailed verdict says accepting apology is entirely a matter between contemnor and court

The bench also perused several judgements of the superior courts related to contempt proceedings. As per the judgement, “the matter of contempt is essentially between the court and the contemnor. It is therefore settled law that taking action against a contemnor or accepting an apology is entirely a matter between the alleged contemnor and the court and thus subject to the latter’s satisfaction”.

Discussing the contemptuous speech of Imran Khan in which he extended threats to additional district and sessions judge Zeba Chaudhry, the bench noted that “the language, tone and context was indeed inappropriate and definitely not expected of a political leader and who had recently served as the prime minister of the country. It was alarming that Hon’ble judge of the District Courts was addressed by name. The speech was not followed by any other action”.

The judgement explained that Mr Khan appeared before the five-judge bench and tendered apology, though the bench was satisfied with his conduct, he was asked to submit written affidavit.

In a subsequent event, the PTI chairman appeared before the court of ADSJ Zeba Chaudhry, “his intent to tender his apology to her was widely reported in the print and electronic media”.

The bench observed: “The conduct of Respondent [Khan], his explanation and apology, particularly his appearance in the court of Hon’ble District Judge, manifest that the regretful acknowledgement regarding the utterances made by him was bona fide.”

The judgment ruled: “The speech was not followed by any other action. The only actues reus [acts or omissions] is aforementioned speech. There is no reason to refuse extending the benefit of the doubt to the Respondent.”

Subsequently, the court absolved Mr Khan of the contempt charges.

IHC Justice Kayani agreed with the decision of discharging the contempt of court notice, but dissented to the extent of giving the benefit of the doubt to PTI chief since he tendered apology before the commencement of trial.

According to the judge, the benefit of the doubt could only be given after perusal of the evidence and recording of statement of the witnesses. Mr Khan submitted the apology at the outset much before the stage of extending this benefit to him. Justice Kayani was of the view that since the speech of Mr Khan was indeed contemptuous, he has been pardoned for submitting the apology.

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2022

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