• CJP says proceedings under contempt charges to continue as per law
• LHC suspends FIA’s call-up notice to Imran in cipher audio leak probe
ISLAMABAD / LAHORE: The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the high courts concerned to quickly proceed on the petitions filed by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leaders against the notices issued to them over the alleged contempt of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and its chief.
A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ayesha Malik and Justice Athar Minallah issued these directives while hearing the case, Dawn.com reported.
The ECP had in August and September issued contempt notices to PTI chief Imran Khan and party leaders Asad Umar, Fawad Chaudhry, Mian Shabbir Ismail and Danial Khalid Khokhar for allegedly using “intemperate” language against the chief election commissioner and the ECP, and asked them to appear in person or through their counsels before the commission to explain their position.
However, the PTI leaders challenged the ECP notices and contempt proceedings in various high courts on the grounds that the statutory provision regarding the commission’s power to punish for contempt was against the Constitution.
Later, the ECP moved a petition with a request to order consolidation of all six petitions before one high court.
At the onset of the hearing on Tuesday, the ECP requested the apex court to consolidate all the petitions filed by the PTI leaders against the commission. PTI lawyer Anwar Mansoor, however, said the petitions could not be merged just to facilitate the respondents.
The CJP asked whether matters sub judice in various courts could be clubbed together. “Explain this under the light of previous court orders,” he told the ECP. The commission’s counsel sought time for reading court decisions.
The CJP also observed that the ECP claimed it had been barred by the Lahore High Court (LHC) from issuing a verdict against the PTI chief. However, he clarified the high court had stopped the commission from issuing the final decision and not the contempt proceedings.
“The decision against the former PM could only be taken after completion of the proceedings in the ECP contempt case,” the court remarked. “The proceedings under contempt charges will continue as per the law.”
The ECP counsel told the court that the LHC had stopped the commission from proceedings against PTI leaders Imran Khan, Fawad Chaudhry and Asad Umar.
Justice Ayesha Malik remarked that disciplinary action could only be initiated once the contempt proceedings had wrapped up.
“Section 10 of the Elections Act permits action for contempt,” the ECP counsel told the court, and lamented the PTI leaders were not turning up before the commission.
Justice Malik interjected that no high court had barred the ECP from action. “The commission has not been holding proceedings in the contempt case since October,” she added.
While wrapping up the ECP pleas, the apex court directed high courts to decide on the PTI’s petitions against the commission soon. It also directed the ECP to continue the contempt proceedings as per the law.
“Can the FIA hold an inquiry without having a forensic examination of the audio first?” the judge questioned.
Call-up notice to Imran suspended
Meanwhile, the LHC suspended a call-up notice issued to PTI Chairman Imran Khan by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in an inquiry into a purported audio leak relating to the US cipher controversy, and sought a reply from the agency by Dec 19.
Earlier, Justice Asjad Javed Ghural overruled the registrar office’s objection to the petition.
The office had stated that the matter apparently fell into the domain of the Islamabad High Court.
At the outset of the hearing, Mr Khan’s counsel Barrister Salman Safdar argued that the objection placed by the office was unnecessary, adding that the petitioner had been advised bed rest following injuries sustained in the Wazirabad attack, and could not travel to Islamabad. Moreover, he said, the petitioner was a resident of Lahore.
Justice Ghural examined the objection and observed that the petition was maintainable before the LHC as well.
The petitioner’s counsel said no inquiry could be held without the forensic exam.
The judge asked the counsel whether the petitioner was the only person being summoned in the inquiry.
Barrister Safdar said some other PTI leaders, including former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, were also implicated in the case. He asked the court to set aside the impugned call-up notice by declaring it being issued without jurisdiction. He also urged the court to quash the inquiry in the interest of justice since no wrongdoing whatsoever was pointed out against the petitioner.
Justice Ghural suspended the operation of the impugned call-up notice and sought a reply from the FIA by Dec 19.
Imran Khan was required to appear before the FIA on Tuesday.
Wajih Ahmad Sheikh in Lahore also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022