LAHORE: The Lahore High Court called on Tuesday for an assurance from President Asif Ali Zardari to voluntarily quit political activities in the Presidency in accordance with its last year’s judgment and offered that in return proceedings on a contempt petition against him would be discharged.
A five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial asked Advocate Wasim Sajjad, the counsel of the federation, to come up with a clear stance of the president by Feb 6 about implementation of the May 12 judgment against him for his political activities and holding dual office (PPP co-chairperson).
The court had asked the counsel to seek the president’s opinion the same day because it wanted to decide the matter without further delay. But Advocate Wasim Sajjad convinced the bench that there was no urgency and a considerable time should be granted.
Justice Nasir Saeed Sheikh, Justice Sheikh Najamul Hassan, Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Syed Manzoor Ali Shah are other members of the bench.
Earlier, the federation’s counsel argued on the point of immunity enjoyed by the president under Article 248 of the Constitution.
The court decided one of the constant arguments from the federation’s side that the petitioner had no locus standi to agitate the matter. Advising the counsel not to repeat the argument, the chief justice observed that even if the petitioner had no locus standi the court could look into the matter as a public interest case.
“We are here to strengthen state institutions under the ambit of the Constitution. Contempt proceedings are launched not only to bring punishment but also to get the contemnor realise his offence,” Justice Bandial remarked.
Arguing against maintainability of the petition, Advocate Sajjad said every citizen enjoyed freedom under the law, but the president was given an additional protection in the Constitution.
The chief justice asked the counsel whether punishment under Article 204 of the Constitution fell under the ambit of criminal proceedings. Justice Ahsan asked the counsel whether a punishment had to be criminal as in cases of civil nature the court punished parties by imposing a cost.
Advocate Wasim Sajjad said the cost imposed in civil cases was in fact compensation and it could not be treated as a punishment. He said the president was not above the law, but the procedure to punish him was defined in Article 47 (Impeachment).
He replied in the affirmative when asked by Justice Shah if people could impeach the president for disobeying a court order.
But Justice Bandial asked the counsel if the majesty of law should be postponed till other methods of punishment were not executed.
Advocate Sajjad said the president had not violated any law or order of the court. He said the instant case was in consequence of misinterpretation and misunderstanding because the court had not issued any direct order to the president.
He said the president was a symbol of all authorities and he was the face of Pakistan and he could not be dragged to courts like ordinary citizens.
The chief justice remarked that the court had no intention to summon the president until the offence was not proved.
Justice Bandial pointed out that Attorney General Irfan Qadir had filed a fresh application to seek permission to advance arguments on immunity granted to the president whereas during previous hearings he had requested the court to first decide the matter of petition’s maintainability.
An additional attorney general told the bench that Advocate Azhar Siddique, one of the counsel of the petitioner, had in a TV talk show tried to malign the court by saying that the president would be charge-sheeted on the next hearing. The court, however, did not take the issue seriously and deferred the matter till the next hearing and said it would summon transcript of the TV programme, if necessary.