ISLAMABAD - Attorney General of Pakistan Irfan Qadir has raised objection on a five-member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan hearing 27 identical petitions against the newly amended Contempt of Court Act 2012. The bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, and comprised of Justice Shakirullah Jan, Justice Khilji Arif Hussain, Justice Jawwad S Khawaja and Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani resumed hearing the case on Thursday. The AG raised objection over the four judges included in the bench. He said that the judges were apparently biased. Upon which Justice Khawaja inquired why the attorney general had not objected to the constitution of the bench earlier as it had been hearing the petitions for the past 10 days.
The attorney general responded that he had tried speaking up but was told to remain quiet by the judges on the bench. The court directed Qadir to name the judges as well as his reasons for calling them prejudiced in writing. Addressing Qadir, Justice Khawaja and Chief Justice Iftikhar said: “This is not the first time you have raised objections over the constitution of a bench.” Prior to this also, you have raised objections to the constitution of benches in different cases, the chief justice said, adding that if the attorney general had brought the matter up earlier, 10 days of hearings would not have gone to waste. On this, the chief justice remarked that he was trying to defame the judiciary. The chief justice said the attorney general was not simply a counsel for the federal government and that providing assistance to the court was among his duties. Chief Justice Iftikhar told the attorney general that he had appeared before the bench on a court notice which did not authorize him to act as someone’s counsel or as a party in the case. The attorney general reiterated that the bench was appearing to be prejudiced in the case, adding that the new contempt of court law did not infringe upon the independence of the judiciary. He said the new law was similar to the Contempt of Court Act 1976. He prayed that all stakeholders be given the opportunity to present their stance. Qadir moreover said that the court should also summon those who would be affected in case the new law was struck down, upon which the chief justice said that the court did not issue notices to everyone in case a law was to be either maintained or struck down.
In his arguments, Irfan Qadir submitted that wisdom belonged to the parliament and being representative of the people‚ everyone should respect it. He said the parliament represented over one hundred and eighty million people of Pakistan and as such we should respect its practices. He said it was a hard fact that the judiciary never took step against dictators while all politicians from Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Nawaz Sharif remained under threat from the judiciary. He said it was a matter of concern that the action was taken only against public representatives.
Irfan Qadir said former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was forced to violate the constitution but he preferred to quit rather confrontation. The AG made it clear that this was the stance of Yousaf Gilani, who said that either option was tough as on one hand he would have betrayed the judiciary (if he did not write the letter) and on the other he would have betrayed the constitution (if he did write the letter). Gilani further said that no one wanted immunity. Chief Justice in his remarks said the court only ordered in the NRO case to write a letter to Swiss authorities and nobody was specifically mentioned in it. It was a misunderstanding that the order to write the letter was against one person. “In paragraph 178, it is written that cases be restored and no name is mentioned,” said CJ. However‚ he said the court during the hearing asked many times that if person needed immunity, he must apply for it. He asked the AG to name who wanted immunity. The attorney general further argued that there was no law present under which Gilani was punished, to which Justice Khilji Arif replied that Gilani, the federation and parliament had accepted the verdict and had not even filed an appeal.
The federation’s counsel in the contempt law case, Abdul Shakoor Paracha, while arguing before the court on Tuesday, admitted that the Contempt of Court Act 2012 might have been promulgated to protect the second prime minister from disqualification, submitting that everybody knew that law was never made in isolation or without motive. He, though, concluded his argument in favour of the law. He said that it was parliament’s duty to make law and judiciary’s duty was to interpret the law.
Remarking that legislation was parliament’s job and the SC had the constitutional right to interpret the law during adjudication of matters placed before it, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry observed that the Contempt of Court Act 2012 violated the principle of equity and equality and had been made only to save the new prime minister. The chief justice observed that the government’s claim that the new contempt law was without flaws was incorrect and all matters of public interest could be taken up in courts. The CJ said that in the constitution of 1973, there was no immunity given to anyone. Justice Khawaja told the attorney general to respect the sanctity of his office. The attorney general said that with the help of the new law, the judiciary had become safer not affected.