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ISLAMABAD, July 23: An observation made by the Supreme Court when it took up a set of identical petitions challenging the Contempt of Court Act 2012 on Monday was not all that heartening for the government, although it did not indicate what course the hearing would take when the five-judge special bench resumes proceeding on Tuesday.

The court said it wondered how could a defence provided in the Constitution against the contempt of court which was subsequently omitted through a constitutional amendment now be re-inserted through a simple enactment by the parliament.

The five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry which had taken up the petitions against the new contempt law recalled that the provision relating to fair comments along with an explanation provided under the original 1973 Constitution in Article 204 (contempt) had been deleted through the Eight Amendment. The provision, however, was again substituted in the article through the Presidential Order 14 of 1985 but without explanation.

The present parliament amended 102 different articles of the Constitution through the 18 Amendment but did not touch the Article 204 meaning thereby that the court had the right to initiate proceedings even on comments about its judgments as there was no clarity about fair comments. Not only the 18th Amendment but subsequent amendments to the Constitution like the 19th and 20th also did not amend the article of the Constitution, the court noted.

Now section 3 of the new law provides a defence against the contempt by suggesting that fair comments on merits of a decision of a court or about the general working of courts made in good faith in public interest but in a temperate language will not constitute contempt of court.

“The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court cannot be curtailed by the parliament by regulating the law,” the court observed.

The chief justice observed that the Supreme Court always welcomed fair comments on judgments if made in a respectable manner while maintaining the dignity of the court as it became a public property the moment it was delivered. “Public has a right to look into the judgments of the courts,” he said.

On Monday, Advocate M. Zafar, representing Baz Muhammad Kakar; Muhammad Ikram Chaudhry, the counsel for Muhammad Siddique Khan Baloch; and Syed Mehmood Akhtar Naqvi appearing in person completed their arguments. The court asked the counsel for other petitioners to conclude their arguments by Tuesday.

Advocate Abdul Shakoor Paracha, representing the federal government, requested the bench to constitute a full court to hear and settle the petitions. He sought one or two weeks’ time for the government to prepare its defence for the contempt law.

But the chief justice rejected his plea and said the court had already given ample time to the federation. Besides, he said, being an important issue an early decision was important. Attorney General Irfan Qadir also sought two weeks to submit a written reply to objections raised by the petitions since no case of such significance against the contempt had ever been heard in the country’s history.

But the chief justice recalled that a case of similar nature had been heard in 1996 by a four-judge bench headed by then Chief Justice Ajmal Mian.

Reading out the 1996 verdict, the AG argued that contempt of court laws had been evolving the world over.

Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani said as long as the system of justice would prevail, laws pertaining to contempt of court would continue to exist. He explained that law on contempt in fact was an extension of the rule of law.

He said the court was not concerned about the dignity of its judges; it’s more concerned about how the administration of justice could prevail if its judgments were not regarded.

Earlier, Advocate Zafar argued that the procedure of appeal provided in the new law was aimed at frustrating the powers of the court and said the independence of judiciary was guaranteed in the preamble of the Constitution.