It was always going one way – and right before the end, the court enticed the premier’s counsel.
“We are ready to give you 10 minutes to talk to the prime minister on the phone and let us know,” said Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, giving one last opportunity to consent to writing a letter to the Swiss authorities.
But there would be no bite.
“I have no mandate to do that,” replied Aitzaz Ahsan almost instantly.
And so happened what was always expected to.
“The appeal is dismissed,” said the chief justice, reading the decision of an eight-member bench.
The Supreme Court threw out on Friday a last-ditch effort by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to avoid indictment in a contempt case, ordering him to appear in court on Monday to face the charges.
The prime minister would get no special treatment. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry observed that even Hazrat Umar (RA) had appeared before the Qazi’s court without any special privileges, adding that the same standard would be observed by this court.
The prime minister is now due to appear before the court on Monday to face charges for the government’s two-year refusal to write a letter to reopen Swiss cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
During proceedings, the court told the prime minister’s lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan that it was expecting a positive breakthrough in the case, but instead it was given the impression that the prime minister was still oblivious to the court’s proceedings against him.
While dismissing the appeal, the court addressed Aitzaz’s main concern that the seven-member bench, headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk, did not provide sufficient opportunity to prepare for the case and that the order had been passed on February 2 without citing a reason. Responding to this concern, the court said that the order was passed in strict adherence of settled principles of justice and therefore no interference was required.
Aitzaz’s request for an additional 10 to 15 days to prepare arguments for the case was also declined by the court, which believed that the matter could be resolved within 10 to 15 minutes.
The eight-member bench repeatedly asked Aitzaz not to close all doors on the prime minister.
“No one wants unrest. We are exercising restraint,” Chaudhry told the court.
“Tell the prime minister this is not in the interest of the country (to defy the court),” he added.
While Aitzaz tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the panel of judges to dismiss the contempt charges by maintaining that Gilani was acting on the advice of his legal team by not writing a letter to the Swiss authorities, the court wouldn’t have any of it.
“We undermine ourselves if we don’t ensure compliance,” said Justice Jawad S Khawaja.
During Friday’s hearing, Aitzaz contended that the court had continuously depicted “strict behaviour” towards the prime minister by issuing a show cause notice against him, adding that since the proceedings of contempt of court are “half of civil nature and half of criminal nature,” the benefit of doubt should be given to the prime minister.
Aitzaz also prayed to the court that the final decision not be limited to the seven judges on the bench, just because they were the chief justice’s “colleagues”.
“He holds the court in highest esteem and respect,” said Aitzaz in his closing remarks, referring to the prime minister. He added that Gilani would like the court to take back its show cause notice against him.
Justice Khilji Arif Husain told Aitzaz that the prime minister was setting a wrong precedent.
In its written order, the court again interpreted its verdict on the National Reconciliation Ordinance, saying that all cases inside the country as well as outside are to be revived; citing Malik Muhammad Qayyum’s letter for withdrawal under international mutual assistance of Swiss cases as an illegal act.
“It would be an unfortunate development if for the third time in Pakistan’s democratic history, an elected prime minister of the country would face contempt trial,” the chief justice said, before reading out the court’s written order.
After the hearing, Aitzaz confirmed to reporters that Gilani would appear before the court on Monday.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2012.
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