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

ISLAMABAD: Striking down the recently passed contempt of court law, the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional and illegal, clearing the way for legal proceedings against the prime minister.

Reading out the verdict, the chief justice said that the new law was contrary to the provisions of several articles of the Constitution, including Article 63(1)(g), Article(25), Article 204(1) and Article 204(2) of the Constitution.

The verdict states: “While enacting COCA 2012… [an] attempt has been made to reduce the powers of the Court as has been indicated in different provisions..”.

It adds that “no immunity can be granted to the public office holders in violation of Article 25 of the Constitution.”

The verdict also rules that a section of the Contempt of Court Act 2012 on the hearing of appeals compromises “the dignity and independence of the Courts,” while another section “...encourages/promotes the commission of contempt of Court by postponing cognizance of a contempt of Court.”

Moreover, the verdict rules that the law “…would also promote the tendency of disrespecting the courts and their orders, therefore, this provision being contrary to the principle of independence of judiciary and access to justice…”

The ruling also adds that the parliamentarians are not entitled to the power of transferring a case from the file of the Chief Justice to the next Senior Judge “as it would be against the independent functioning of the Court” and would be “tantamount to undermining the authority of the Chief Justice and other Judges as well.”

The verdict summarizes that, after finding several sections of the law contrary to the provisions of the Constitution of Pakistan, the only constitutional option left to the bench is to declare the Contempt of Court Act 2012 unconstitutional and void in its entirety.

Click here to read the complete text of the Supreme Court's verdict

Friday's verdict was the latest episode in a two-and-a-half-year saga in which the government has resisted demands to investigate Zardari, arguing he enjoys immunity as head of state.

The showdown could force elections before February 2013 when the government would become the first in Pakistan's history to complete an elected, full five-year mandate.

The Supreme Court has now given Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf until August 8 to indicate whether he will follow a court order to write to authorities in Switzerland, asking them to reopen the cases against Zardari.

Last month, it suggested that Ashraf could suffer the same fate as Gilani — being dismissed for contempt — if he refuses to do so.

State television quoted the attorney general as saying that he was “stunned” by the court decision that “went beyond its jurisdiction”.

“Parliament is supreme and has the authority of legislation. The judiciary should not interfere in legislative affairs,” Irfan Qadir told PTV.

But the petitioners who challenged the law, welcomed the move.

“We are thankful to the Supreme Court of Pakistan which has protected our rights through this decision. This act was formulated in a bid to quash the fundamental rights of the common citizen,” said barrister Zafarullah Khan.

Friday's proceeding

Earlier during the prooceedings of the case today, 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, had heard 27 identical petitions challenging the Contempt of Court Act, 2012.

During the hearing, Attorney General Irfan Qadir was presenting his arguments before the bench.

Addressing the bench, Qadir said he had utmost respect for the court and that the court "should not be displeased".

The attorney general moreover said that he could not afford to divert “even an inch away” from the Constitution.

Upon which, Justice Khawaja said: "You end up moving two to three inches away from the Constitution".

"No, I have not moved away from the Constitution to even a centimetre," Qadir said.

Moreover, Justice Khilji said the new law failed to mention several terms pertaining to contempt of court.

To which, the attorney general said that if the new law was viewed in mathematical terms it would get complicated.

Justice Khilji said the terms of ridicule, scandalisation and contempt of court were not present in many sections of the law.

Responding to which, Qadir said: "It does not make a difference and the essence of the contempt remains in the new law."

He added: "Through the new law, the horizon of contempt of court has, in fact, been broadened."

Chief Justice Iftikhar said that a law could not broaden a concept addressed in the Constitution, adding that, the new law even included magistrates in the definition of a judge.

The attorney general said he had worked with a number of judges and that he had been told that a judge was a judge, even if it he/she was a magistrate.

In his remarks, Justice Khawaja inquired as to why the former prime minister did not file an appeal against his conviction.

Upon which, the attorney general said that Yousuf Raza Gilani made the right decision by not filing the appeal.