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Contempt cases on the rise

May 24, 2012

ISLAMABAD, May 24: It is not the prime minister alone who defied a court order, but there are over two dozens federal ministries, government departments and autonomous bodies currently facing about 300 contempt petitions in the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

According to data compiled by Dawn, the Capital Development Authority is facing around 60 contempt of court petitions, Islamabad administration 15, interior ministry 12, ministry of housing and works 11, ministry of defence and its allied departments and the Federal Board of Revenue 10 each.

The judges on a number of occasions expressed annoyance over the lethargic attitude of the government officials, especially the CDA, and on May 11 while hearing a contempt of court plea filed by the owner of a private petrol pump, Justice Noorul Haq N.

Qureshi issued arrest warrants for CDA chairman Farkhand Iqbal, director general planning Ghulam Sarwar Sindhu and deputy director Arshad Chohan for not issuing the petitioner an NOC despite the court orders.

The court observed that “the contemnors have taken very lightly the politeness of the court as despite the order issued for their attendance, none of them appeared today.” Later, however, the officials halfheartedly implemented the court orders.

The other contemnors included the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra), the Oil and Gas Development Corporation (OGDCL), Zarai Taraqiati Bank (ZTBL), National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), Federal Directorate of Education (FDE), National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, ministry of religious affairs, statistics division, ministry of information, petroleum ministry, ministry of law and justice, National Assembly secretariat, cabinet division, establishment division, Capital Administration and Development Division, prime minister’s secretariat, Islamabad police, Quaid-i-Azam University and the Institute of Space Technology.

Contempt of court petitions were also filed by those officials who were aggrieved by the orders of their high-ups. In such service matters, the officials even after getting court orders in their favours run from pillar to post to implement them.

Musa Raza Effendi, a grade 21 officer who was ignored in promotion to grade 22, approached the IHC but despite the court orders the respondents - principle secretary to the prime minister and secretary cabinet division — did not process his case.

Mr Effendi filed a contempt of court plea against the respondents and the court on May 16 observed that, “the proposed contemnors willfully violated the directions of the court” and ordered the respondents to submit their reply in 15 days.

According to the court record, contempt of court petitions have increased manifold during the last two years.

From 2004 to 2007, there were less than 50 contempt of court petitions filed with the Lahore High Court (LHC) when the federal ministries fell under its jurisdiction. In 2008 when IHC was established, it received 13 contempt of court petitions from the LHC.

When the IHC ceased to exist after the Supreme Court orders of July 31, 2009, there were 26 such petitions. During 2010, the number of contempt of court petitions filed with the LHC reached 30, but 2011 saw a marginal increase in the number of such petitions which rose to 120. So far in the current year, about 80 contempt of court petitions have been filed with the IHC.

Former chief justice LHC Mian Allah Nawaz while talking to Dawn said the judiciary was, in fact, the weakest organisation because it had no force for implementation of its orders.

Though under the constitution the judiciary can exercise some powers to punish the contemnors, the judges in general take lenient view towards the contemnors.

He said disobedience to the judiciary would lead society to a chaotic situation wherein criminals would be emboldened to flout court orders.

Justice (retired) Tariq Mehmood said he never sentenced any contemnor because he believed that contempt of court proceedings itself were a lesson for the contemnors.

He said ideally an order should be implemented on the next day of its passage but in our society it has become a tradition that from top to bottom government officials try to linger on the implementation.

Senior lawyer Mohammad Naseer Bhutta, however, believed that the ministries and other departments who had flouted the court orders were inspired by their chief executive.

He said when a person sitting on the top would not respect the orders of the Supreme Court then how a deputy director or a director would give importance to the order of a civil judge.

According to him, the court should not take leniency towards those who defied its orders and all the civil, criminal and judicial contempt must be dealt with strictly in accordance with the law.

Federal minister for information and broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira, when contacted, said the government never directed its ministries and officials not to implement the court orders.

He said the orders of the courts were being implemented in letter and spirit and without any delay.

“I am not an expert of law, therefore, cannot give much detail on this matter,” he added.

Deputy Attorney General Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri said in order to harass senior officials people filed petitions against them and after the courts decide the matter, they interpreted it differently.