- LHC bench imposes temporary ban on TV channels from airing ‘anti-judiciary’ speeches by Nawaz, Maryam and 14 other PML-N leaders
- Orders PEMRA to decide on contempt petitions within 15 days, slams regulator for dismissing pleas against contemptuous remarks
- Justice Naqvi says ‘not every person should be allowed to criticise courts just for sake of exercising their right to criticise’
LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday temporarily barred TV channels from airing alleged “anti-judiciary speeches” uttered by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) ‘Quaid for Life’ Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and 14 other senior party leaders.
A three-judge full bench, headed by Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and comprising Justice Atir Mahmood and Justice Chaudhry Masood Jahangir, had taken up a set of 27 miscellaneous petitions against “anti-judiciary speeches” delivered by PML-N leaders. The bench directed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to decide the complaints pending with it regarding the alleged contemptuous speeches within 15 days as well.
Until the authority decides the complaints, no alleged “anti-judiciary speeches” delivered by PML-N leaders will be allowed to be aired during the 15 days, the court ruled, directing PEMRA to ensure strict monitoring of programmes to prevent any such content from being broadcast.
The court also rejected an application filed by Advocate AK Dogar on behalf of Nawaz Sharif requesting that Justice Naqvi recuse himself from the full bench.
“The judge authored the order against Nawaz Sharif allowing no chance of defence,” the application filed by Dogar reads. It added that the remarks caused stress to his client after which he expects no fair treatment at the hands of Justice Naqvi. The bench, however, dismissed the defence counsel’s reservations.
At the previous hearing, Advocate Dogar had also objected to the inclusion of Justice Atir Mehmood on the bench, saying he had previously remained an office-bearer of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Justice Naqvi had said that every citizen has right to support any political party and clarified that Justice Mehmood never held any office in the Imran Khan-led party. The counsel said it appeared that the bench has already made up its mind about the outcome of the case. Justice Naqvi had censured the lawyer, saying the court has yet not summoned him for presenting his arguments. The thrice-elected premier has been criticising the courts more than anybody else, he had observed.
‘ONLY LEGAL EXPERTS OR LAWYERS CAN COMMENT ON VERDICTS’:
Advocate Azhar Siddique, who was representing one of the petitioners, argued before the court on Monday that Article 19-A of the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and the right to “fair criticism” to every citizen. But Justice Naqvi observed that the constitutional right to fair criticism is conditional to law and regulation.
“It can’t be that anyone out there goes about denouncing judicial matters and decisions in the name of ‘fair criticism’,” he remarked, adding that it would make sense for an expert or lawyer to comment on such matters but not everyone can be allowed to do the same. Drawing attention to Article 68, Justice Naqvi said it even prevented the Parliament from criticising the judiciary and its decisions.
“A person dissatisfied at a verdict should file a review petition,” he added.
PEMRA’s counsel Advocate Salman Akram Raja argued that the petitioners were raising unnecessary objections against the regulatory body’s authority. He said that PEMRA had rejected an application against alleged anti-judiciary speeches on “technical grounds” using its authority.
“Should we not take away from this that [PEMRA] allowed airing of anti-judiciary speeches by rejecting the application?” the bench asked. “PEMRA may have made a minor error [of judgment] by rejecting the application,” the counsel responded.
“This is not a minor mistake,” the bench observed. “Instead of taking action, PEMRA sought advice from the judiciary. Should publishing of such a notice be considered a minor mistake?”
The court reserved its decision after hearing all arguments and subsequently announced a 15-day ban on speeches deemed to be contemptuous.
Following the Panama Papers verdict which led to Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification as premier, the former PM and other PML-N leaders have drawn ire for their criticism of the judiciary.
Multiple petitions have been filed in different courts against them over alleged contempt of court. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and federal and provincial ministers of the PML-N have also been made respondents in the petitions.
In January, the Islamabad High Court had accepted a contempt of court petition against Sharif and his daughter Maryam for making speeches critical of the judiciary.
The Supreme Court, however, dismissed multiple contempt of court petitions against the ousted prime minister last month, saying on one occasion: “Commenting cleanly on a [court] decision is the right of every citizen.”