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LAHORE, Sept 27: A Lahore High Court larger bench on Thursday held proceedings on a contempt of court petition against President Asif Ali Zardari and asked petitioner’s counsel to convince the court on a point whether Article 248(2) of the Constitution was applicable to the instant case.

Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, who headed the bench, further asked counsel A.K Dogar to advance arguments on the next hearing to define whether the nature of these contempt proceedings was criminal, civil or sui generis (neither criminal nor civil).

Earlier, the bench turned down a request of the federal government to adjourn hearing due to unavailability of its counsel, Advocate Wasim Sajjad, and continued with the proceedings.

Mr Dogar argued that the absence of the government’s counsel would have no effect on the proceedings as the government was not a necessary party in the case but a proforma respondent. He said the government was trying to delay the proceedings. The bench admitted the arguments and asked the counsel to start his arguments on the maintainability of the petition which sought contempt proceedings against the president for not relinquishing the political office of PPP co-chairperson in compliance with an LHC full bench order issued last year.

Advocate Dogar resumed his arguments and read out judgment of Supreme Court against Contempt of Court Act 2012. He tried to convince the judges that the constitutional immunity under Article 248(2) was not the hurdle in the way of punishment of president for committing the offence of contempt. He said the SC had declared that a competent court could punish any person who committed contempt of the court.

He argued that statements of President Zardari and his activities published or aired by media were enough to prove that he (president) was continuously violating the Constitution and the LHC order as well.

As the arguments of the petitioner’s counsel were in process, Additional Attorney General Abdul Hayee Gillani came to the rostrum and objected to the proceedings in the absence of the federal government’s counsel. In an aggressive tone he asked the chief justice to adjourn the hearing as there was no counsel standing on the other side to counter the arguments of petitioner’s counsel.

Chief Justice Bandial directed the law officer to sit silently as the arguments made from the petitioner side were not against the federal government. “The court wants to know what the Supreme Court had said on the matter of immunity,” the CJ added.

Justice Bandial mentioned that Advocate Wasim Sajjad was supposed to submit written arguments on the maintainability of the petition but he failed to do so although he (Sajjad) had stated that this was the first case of its nature in the constitutional history of subcontinent.

The bench heard more arguments of Advocate Dogar and put two questions to be addressed by the counsel on next hearing, Oct 10.

Justice Nasir Saeed Sheikh, Justice Sheikh Najamul Hassan, Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah were other members of the larger bench.

Munir Ahmad had filed the petition seeking contempt of court proceedings against President Zardari.

An LHC full bench in its decision on May 12, 2011, against the dual office of the president had ruled that the political activities did not enjoy immunity from the judicial process. The bench had expressed its expectation that the president would abandon the political office of PPP co-chairperson.