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Contempt law case: CJ says new law not without flaws

July 31, 2012


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

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard petitions against the recently passed contempt of court law, DawnNews reported.

A five-judge bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and including Justice Shakirullah Jan, Justice Khilji Arif Hussain, Justice Jawad S Khawaja and Justice Tassadduq Hussain Jilani, heard 27 identical petitions challenging the Contempt of Court Act, 2012.

During the hearing, the federation's counsel, Abdul Shakoor Paracha, said the parliament's authority over law making could not be challenged.

Paracha moreover argued that the new contempt of court law did not in any manner restricts the powers of the judiciary.

He further said that the impression that the new law had been passed in order to curtail the freedom of the judiciary was faulty.

In his remarks, Chief Justice Iftikhar said democracy would continue if dictatorship was not supported by those in power.

He added that the way to authoritarianism was paved when institutions exceeded their jurisdictions.

The chief justice moreover said that the government's claim that the new law was without flaws was incorrect, adding that, all matters of public interest could be taken up in courts.

He moreover asked as to how proceedings would be initiated against those who used foul language.

Paracha said the law was passed so that another prime minister is not sent packing.

Upon which, Chief Justice Iftikhar remarked that this revealed what the federation's attorney had been thinking all along.

The hearing was later adjourned to Wednesday.

Earlier during Monday’s hearing and days after the judges’ remarks over the role of the opposition in parliament over the passage of the new contempt law, the Supreme Court tried to pacify the parliamentarians and said the court always sought wisdom from them.

“They (parliamentarians) are not against us. We seek wisdom from them and when during the proceedings we read the debate made in the two houses we learn about the discussion on every aspect of the law,” observed Chief Justice Iftikhar.

On July 27, members of the treasury benches in Senate had expressed concern over the judges’ remarks and said the judiciary should exercise restraint in dealing with the parliament.

Also, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of the PML-N had, in a hard-hitting statement, described the remarks as disappointing, unfair, unjust and beyond comprehension.

The law

The contempt of court law had been hurriedly passed by the ruling government in a bid to protect the incumbent prime minister from facing the same fate as his predecessor.

The law exempts “holders of public office” from the mischief of contempt in “exercise of powers and performance of functions” and allows for suspension of a sentence during the pendency of an appeal.

The main opposition party in the National Assembly, the PML-N, had objected to the passage of the law saying it was not sent to relevant standing committees for deliberation.

The petitions

In all there are 26 petitions against the act and one of the petitioners, Baz Muhammad Kakar, contends that Section 3(i) of the new act curtailed the power and jurisdiction of the court under Article 204(2) of the Constitution to punish ‘any person’ who abused, interfered with or obstructed the process of the court in any way or disobeyed any order of the court.

It also violated Article 25 which guaranteed equal protection of the laws, he said.

A petition filed on behalf of the Save Judiciary Movement by Advocate Hashmat Habib pleads that the law should be struck down because it goes against the Quran and Sunnah and the Contempt of Court Ordinance of 2003 be restored.