ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has held that the power to initiate contempt jurisdiction, vested with the superior judiciary, is not a substitute to execute or implement decrees passed by the courts earlier.
“It is undesirable,” noted Justice Amin-ud-Din Khan on Saturday while deciding an appeal by the National Highway Authority (NHA) against the Jan 26, 2017 and March 30, 2015 judgments of the Lahore High Court (LHC) on several intra court appeals.
Justice Amin-ud-Din Khan was part of the three-judge bench that also comprised Justice Sardar Tariq Masood and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel.
The dispute surfaced when the NHA acquired land — measuring 204 kanals and six marlas through June 30, 1996 award No 5 — for the construction of Pindi Bhattian Interchange on Islamabad-Lahore Motorway at the rate of Rs2,000 per marla. The award was accepted by the land owners but it transpired later that only 39 kanals and seven marlas of land were acquired and it escaped mention in the notification on the award.
For the acquisition of this 39 kanals and seven marlas, a new award of Nov 30, 2005 was announced in which the land price was fixed at the rate of Rs2,000 per marla.
Accepts NHA plea against decisions on intra court appeals
Later, the LHC through its May 14, 2009 order set aside the new award to reassess the value of the land in accordance with the law and subsequently a fresh award was announced on April 30, 2012 with a compensation amount at the rate of Rs50,000 per marla.
Afterwards fresh calculation of amount of compensation was made on May 19, 2015 and corrigendum of July 10, 2015 was issued and compound interest was held to be calculated from the date of possession i.e. March 30, 1993.
The original owner of the land later initiated contempt proceedings but the high court disposed of the contempt petition when the NHA deposited the compensation amount in terms of April 30, 2012 award, suggesting compensation of Rs50,000 per marla. The amount was accepted by the owners under objections stating they reserved the right to challenge the quantum of compensation.
Thereafter, a series of intra court appeals including contempt of court petitions were filed by the owners against the NHA challenging the calculation of the compensation award.
In a 13-page order, the Supreme Court cited 2021 Saeeda Sultan versus Liaqat Ali Orakzai in which the apex court had held that the tool of contempt was often and rampantly misused as a substitute for execution and implementation of the final orders, judgment and decree of the trial court as may be upheld, reversed, modified or varied by the apex court.
“Where it is a case for the implementation of order, judgment and decree of the court, the course available is to seek execution in the manner provided for exhaustively in the Code of Civil Procedure and not by way of contempt either under Article 204 of the constitution or Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003 order under Order 27 of the Supreme Court Rules 1980.
The 2021 judgment had also observed that the contempt jurisdiction vests in the superior courts to ensure the maintenance of the dignity of court and the majesty of law. Such jurisdiction is to be exercised with circumspection and sparingly and not merely at whims and fancy of any person to satisfy personal ego or as an arm-twisting tool.
The previous decision had also explained the exercise of contempt jurisdiction was ‘discretionary’ and between the court and the alleged contemnor, but where efficacious remedy was available by pursuing execution proceedings to seek implementation or the order or judgment of the superior court, contempt proceedings was ‘not a choice, but an exception’.
In the end, the apex court held that the compensation amount of Rs50,000 per marla had fairly been determined and the same received by the land owners and therefore subsequent modification in the award was ‘unjust’ and consequently set aside.
Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2023
Dear visitor, the comments section is undergoing an overhaul and will return soon.