The stage is set for the prime minister to appear in the apex court today to hear the announcement of a verdict in the contempt proceedings against him.
While it is his fate on the line, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani will not be alone when he visits the Supreme Court. According to Pakistan Peoples Party leaders, he will be accompanied by cabinet members, members of coalition parties as well as senior party leaders.
However, while the expectations are that a verdict will be announced on Thursday, a new strategy by the premier’s legal team may attempt to delay the matter once more. In a last-minute decision at a strategic meeting, the team is said to have decided to invoke Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which deals with the recording of the statement of an accused in a criminal case.
“We will request the court that, instead of issuing the verdict today, it should give our client an opportunity to record his statement… It happens in all criminal cases. Otherwise it becomes a non-trial,” said a senior lawyer on the prime minister’s legal team.
According to his interpretation of the section, the court is bound to explain the charge against the accused in all criminal cases and then the alleged offender is given a chance to record a statement in his defence.
The lawyer remarked that, in this case, the Supreme Court had not listened to the prime minister so far and would have to do so.
When contacted, prominent lawyer Farough Nasim confirmed that it was the right of an accused to seek to record his statement in all criminal cases under section 342 of the CrPC. But, he also added, that in contempt proceedings, it was up to the court as to how it interpreted the section.
The premier’s lawyer said that, if the attempt to seek more time fails, the legal team will immediately file a review petition and a separate application seeking to suspend the conviction.
The prime minister informed the cabinet on Wednesday of his decision to appear in the court today, to hear the announcement of a verdict as to whether he is guilty of contempt for refusing to write to the authorities in Switzerland to ask them to re-open corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
“The Supreme Court has summoned me for the third time and I will appear before the court tomorrow (April 26) as I have a great level of respect for them,” the prime minister told his cabinet, while chairing a weekly meeting.
“We are satisfied with the input given by our lawyers and we are also satisfied with the input by the Attorney General,” Gilani said. However, the premier would not comment on whether he would quit if convicted.
The prime minister also welcomed any cabinet members who wished to accompany him before the apex court. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that the entire cabinet would accompany the prime minister.
Meanwhile, newly appointed Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira along with Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Shah held a joint press conference after the cabinet meeting at the PM Secretariat.
Kaira told journalists that the premier had informed the cabinet that he would not take advantage of any legal privilege while appearing before the Supreme Court today.
“The leaders and ministers of the coalition partners will also accompany the prime minister,” Kaira added.
Security beefed up
A high level meeting was also held to review the security arrangements made for the prime minister’s appearance before the court. During the meeting, it was revealed that the prime minister will enter like an ordinary citizen, while his entry point would only be communicated later. There will be aerial surveillance and no political workers will be allowed to enter the premises of the court or its vicinity.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2012.