Freedom of speech 'can't be stretched to cover contempt'

SC issues detailed judgment of rejection of Talal Chaudhry's intra-court appeal in contempt case

Hasnaat Malik March 06, 2019
Supreme Court of Pakistan. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) has noted that freedom of speech cannot be stretched to scandalise the court and to bring the judges into hatred, ridicule or contempt.

"The right to freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution admittedly is not absolute, unlimited or unfettered but subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by the law and one such restriction so imposed is in relation to the contempt of court.

The protective cover so provided to freedom of speech and expression cannot be stretched to cover a speech, comment or publication which may tend to influence, impede, embarrass or obstruct the administration of justice, scandalises the court and brings the honourable judges of this court into hatred, ridicule or contempt," says the detailed judgment authored by SC judge Justice Sajjad Ali Shah over the rejection of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Talal Chaudhry's intra-court appeal (ICA) in contempt case for delivering an inflammatory and contemptuous speech against the judiciary.

The five-judge bench, led by ex-chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar rejected ICA on October 9. However, the detailed judgment has been issued later.

The verdict says that the real object and the ultimate purpose in the mind of the court while initiating contempt proceedings is not to afford protection to the judges from imputation to which they might be exposed personally as individuals or to satisfy the ego of a judge by punishing such person. Instead, it is to maintain and strengthen the confidence of the public in general and the litigants in the court and to vindicate the honour and dignity of the court to ensure that the administration of justice is not diminished or weakened.

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"On the other hand, it is also true that courts in the matter of contempt tend to show grace and magnanimity towards the alleged contemnor in cases where the contemnor without justifying his action/statement shows his repentance, remorse and at the earliest opportunity submits an unconditional apology by throwing himself at the mercy of the courts. However, this is not a rule of thumb and cannot be applied to every case as an apology tendered does not automatically purge the contemnor of the contempt and may not necessarily be accepted unless the Court from the surrounding circumstances is satisfied about the bona fide of the contemnor."

The verdict says that the offending speech was made by Talal Chaudhry after the top court court had pronounced its verdict in Panamagate case that saw then prime minister Nawaz Sharif declared as dishonest in terms of Section 99(f) of the Representation of the People Act, 1976 (ROPA) and Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution and, therefore, disqualified to be a member of the parliament. Soon thereafter some of the members of the ruling party (PML-N) in order to show their allegiance with Nawaz Sharif started a campaign of maligning the office of the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the judges of this court in public gatherings and on electronic media, it states.

"The appellant (Talal) being one such firebrand speaker has deliberately and intentionally in the stated background, through the stated utterances, attacked the integrity and independence of the judiciary to please and support his leader with the sole intent to ridicule and lower the respect and to shake the confidence of people at large from the safe administration of justice."

The court noted that his conduct compelled it to initiate contempt proceedings against him for undermining the authority, integrity and independence of this court. It also said that the tenor and content of Talal's speech 'clearly shows that it was designed and worded to scandalise the court and to bring the judges into hatred, ridicule or contempt'.

"Unfortunately we see neither genuine remorse nor sincerity on the apology which in the instant case is being used by the Appellant (Talal) to get out of a difficult situation that he finds himself in for having used intemperate and contemptuous language against the highest Court of the country and the judges. In the circumstances, notwithstanding the fact that the apology tendered by the appellant (Talal) does not meet the required standard laid down by this court or lacks bona fide, we are of the view that the contempt committed by the appellant is so grave that the apology is not sufficient to purge the contempt".

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