ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani may face yet another contempt charge in addition to the one he is already confronted with for not implementing the NRO verdict.
The apprehension was expressed by legal experts after Thursday’s proceedings by a seven-judge Supreme Court bench grappling with the issue of implementation of the NRO judgment.
The court decided to issue an appropriate order on April 16 after expressing displeasure over the response the prime minister had submitted on March 21 in which he threw the ball back to the judiciary’s court by requesting it to first settle the contempt matter and then raise the issue of implementation of the NRO verdict.
The prime minister is currently facing contempt charges for not pursuing graft cases on the pretext that he had received the advice to that effect under the normal rules of business.
The NRO judgment requires the government to revive mutual legal assistance with Switzerland by writing a letter to open money-laundering cases of $60 million in which President Asif Ali Zardari is also an accused.
On March 8, the prime minister was specifically directed by the court to disregard the advice given by the secretaries concerned and implement the directive contained in paragraphs 177 and 178 in the NRO judgment.
“The prime minister should not be looking around seeking advices instead of implementing the order,” Justice Ijaz Afzal Khan said, adding that the prime minister wanted to expose himself to another contempt proceeding.
“Are our orders to be interpreted by the secretaries and the prime minister? Does the prime minister have the authority over and above the court of law?” Justice Ijaz asked.
“Now the prime minister is aggravating the situation,” Justice Gulzar Ahmed observed. “We are afraid this is not the compliance of our earlier order of March 8,” Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk, who is heading the bench, said while dictating the order.
“Since there is no compliance we will pass an appropriate order on April 16,” the order said.
As the order was passed after brief proceedings it was again dissected and interpreted as usual as legal experts began to foretell what future may hold for the prime minister this time.
“Today’s hearing clearly shows that the court is heading towards issuing another contempt notice,” said a senior counsel who wished not to be named.
However, Justice (retd) Tariq Mehmood was more specific. “Not only can the Supreme Court issue a separate contempt notice, it can even appoint a commission or direct its registrar or any other senior government official to write the letter on behalf of the government to the Swiss authorities for reopening the cases.”
The appointment of the commission was also mentioned in one of the six options the court had outlined earlier, he said.
Mr Mehmood also said the prime minister in the existing contempt case did not face a serious threat because he was not hit by Article 63 (1 g) of the Constitution.
The article deals with the eligibility of candidates to contest elections and to be members of the parliament; and those who are guilty of defaming or ridiculing the judiciary or compromising the integrity or the independence of the judiciary are deemed disqualified.
At present, Mr Mehmood said, the prime minister was facing a civil contempt in which he was not accused of ridiculing the judiciary. “Therefore, prima facie this provision does not apply to this particular case,” he said. But in case a fresh contempt was issued, he added, it could be a judicial contempt which was more serious than the existing one.
And the plea that the prime minister acted on the advice given to him for not writing the letter would not be available if a new contempt was issued, he said.
While passing the fresh contempt charge, Mr Mehmood feared, the Supreme Court might also take stock of Mr Gilani’s recent public addresses, especially the one in Mailsi in which he had publicly stated that he would opt for a six-month jail term for not implementing the court orders, instead of going to the gallows for committing violation of the Constitution.
On Thursday, Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq repeated before the court what the prime minister had requested in his reply asking the bench to undertake further proceedings on the NRO implementation after finalisation of the contempt case.
“Though the contempt proceedings and the implementation case are different yet the issue involved is essentially and materially the same,” the prime minister’s application said.
The prime minister’s statement that the state of Pakistan could not surrender its president for a trial by a foreign magistrate and that the issue of president’s immunity was of public concern and, therefore, should be referred to parliament was also annexed with this application.
Justice Nasir said the court wanted in black and white whether or not the prime minister had complied with the court orders and explained that the contempt case and implementation matters were altogether different issues.