The indictment of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on contempt charges is the formal start of a prosecution that might take weeks or even months to conclude.
Contrary to the perception that the PM would be convicted and sent to jail directly from the Supreme Court after the framing of charges, the seven judge bench merely formally announced the charge on Monday.
At this first stage, the court officially told the PM that he deliberately flouted and disregarded the direction of the court given in paragraph 178 of the NRO verdict, regarding writing a letter to Swiss authorities.
The court told the PM that he was legally bound to obey the order. In defying it he committed contempt of the court, which is a punishable offence under article 204 (2) of the Constitution. Therefore the court told him that he will be tried on this charge.
Justice (Rtd) Tariq Mehmood said that the charge sheet is formal in nature and no harsh language was used against the PM in the charge sheet. He also said, however, that it will have to be seen what section or sections of Article 63 of the Constitution the court will apply in its verdict.
He said at this stage the court has told the PM of the accusations against him and that he has the right to defend himself against the charge. As per the legal procedure, the attorney general, being a prosecutor in this case, will submit evidence against the PM in court.
The court will then scan the evidence and ask the defendant to file his reply over the evidence, either accepting it or rejecting it. Then, on the next stage after hearing the defense counsel, the court will announce its verdict.
The defendant will still have right to file an appeal against the final verdict. The appeal will be heard by not less then eight judges and, if rejected, there is no further right of appeal and the court will direct the authorities to implement the verdict in letter and spirit.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2012.