Supreme Court of Pakistan
Supreme Court of Pakistan. — Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD, July 27: Hearing a set of identical petitions challenging the new contempt law, the Supreme Court observed on Friday that sparing powerful people by according immunity would only encourage a trend of not respecting the dignity and sanctity of courts and turn their orders into a mere piece of paper.

If one person was spared another would come to demand the same treatment, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry observed. “This will help encourage a trend of not accepting the dignity and respect of the courts and making our orders a piece of paper.”

On Friday, Advocate Afrasiab Khan, representing petitioner Chaudhry Amjad Hassan Ali, Jamil Ahmed of the Communist Party of Pakistan, Rashid A. Razvi of the Sindh Bar Council and Barrister Zafarullah Khan, appearing in person, completed their arguments.

Advocate Shakoor Paracha will commence his arguments after other petitioners complete their arguments before recess on Monday.

Barrister Zafarullah argued that the Contempt of Court Act 2012 mutilated, abridged and restricted a person’s fundamental rights and legal entitlements under any statute as citizen because the machinery which would enforce these was being made toothless.

Under the Muslim jurisprudence, he said, no-one could think of disobeying the orders of a court. Even field martial Qutaiba bin Muslim Al-Bahili, an extraordinary commander who had conquered Central Asia and millions and millions of square miles, had to vacate the city of Samarkand on the orders of a local judge, he said, adding that there was no parallel example of such kind in human history.

The same was the position of the western jurisprudence, he said. Citing Lord Hardwick, Barrister Zafarullah said a trust in an office was necessary in the concerns between man and man, and if faithfully discharged and attended with no small degree of trouble and anxiety it was an act of great kindness for anyone to accept it.

He argued that with the diminishing of contempt of court powers as designed under the new contempt law, all fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution would also weaken.

“The superior courts get their verdicts implemented either through the moral authority or through coercive powers of contempt of court. A weak contempt of court law will make implementation of all fundamental rights fragile and ineffective,” he said. Justice Jawwad S.

Khawaja said public servants sometimes forgot their true place and began considering themselves owners of the country. “Parliamentarians are merely servants of the people and nothing more; they even get paid by the public.”

But he praised people who had framed the Constitution like former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and said that although the dictators attempted to obliterate the essence of the Constitution, still the document was just as significant and valid as it had been.

Justice Khawaja regretted that bulk of the court’s time had been exhausted on matters which should not have come to it because these concerned the functions of the executive. “Since the executive is not doing its functions, courts had to address matters like this contempt case by discharging normal cases concerning ordinary litigants who deserve the attention of the court more because their rights were abridged.”

When Barrister Zafarullah said societies should run on values, Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jilani observed that values took time to evolve in societies. “But education is not one of our top priorities,” he regretted.

Barrister Zafarullah said the empire (executive) had struck back through the new law against the ascendant judiciary towards the much-needed independence with the blessings of the people.

Referring to section 13 of the law which deals with the ‘repeal clause’, he said that although “we should not attribute absurdity to the legislature, it appears that the draftsman representing 180 million people of a nuclear power country does not know what exactly the law of the land is”.

Advocate Afrasiab argued that parliament could not alter the constitutional definition of contempt of court on the basis of mere majority.

According to him, the new law was aimed at achieving a particular objective of protecting a particular personality. He said the Constitution was very sensitive to protecting the rights of people that was why it had used the term any person for invoking the contempt of the court.

Rasheed Razvi was of the opinion that the new law was a colourable piece of legislation and, therefore, liable to be struck down from the statute.