PM contempt case: SC throws out Vienna defence for president

Court says the convention applies to diplomats, not presidents.


Azam Khan April 19, 2012

ISLAMABAD: The premier’s counsel on Wednesday tried to establish immunity for the incumbent president using the Vienna Convention.

Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, however, remarked that the convention provides immunity to diplomats and consular staff, not presidents.

A president only enjoys immunity under the Vienna Convention when he is travelling abroad, added the seven-member bench hearing the contempt case against Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

The impasse

A day before the premier’s counsel has to wrap up his arguments in the case, the arguments boiled down to this: Aitzaz insisted that Prime Minister Gilani cannot write the letter until Asif Ali Zardari is the incumbent president, since the latter enjoys constitutional immunity.

The letter will be written, and court orders followed, when the President Zardari is out of office, Aitzaz said, asking the court to delay the implementation of its earlier verdict until then.

The court, however, insisted that the president’s immunity is not relevant in this regard and, in any case, has to be invoked by the president if he wishes to claim it.

The issue here is of an individual [the prime minister] who refuses to obey court orders on grounds that another individual [the president] enjoys immunity, Justice Khosa said.

If you believe the president has immunity, then claim it before the Swiss courts since that is between the accused and Swiss authorities, the bench told Aitzaz.

What the court wants

Justice Nasirul Mulk said the court has only ordered the prime minister to write a letter to Swiss authorities for reopening graft cases against National Reconciliation Order (NRO) beneficiaries.

What difference will it make to the president if the prime minister writes the letter, Justice Mulk asked Aitzaz. The prime minister should write the letter and let the president deal with the rest [i.e. the issue of his immunity], he added.

Aitzaz said that the court’s order on the NRO case calls for reopening of graft cases.

Justice Khosa, however, replied that the court has merely asked the premier to write a letter that reverses the instructions sent by then-attorney general Malik Qayyum in a letter to Swiss authorities.

Qayyum had withdrawn the right of the Government of Pakistan to become a party, and seek legal mutual assistance, in the money laundering case.

You say the cases in Switzerland were closed on merit but according to the documents, the Swiss appellate court remanded (sent back) the case to a lower court since the latter had awarded a small sentence to President Zardari, Justice Khosa stated.

Other arguments

Aitzaz resorted to rhetoric, saying if India can seek an apology from the United States for holding Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan in detention for two hours, how could Pakistan hand over its head of state to a foreign authority?

“We are not against the president or the prime minister … we only want court’s verdicts to be implemented and the money lying in Swiss banks to be returned,” said the bench.

Aitzaz also requested that this case be referred to a larger bench and completed his arguments on Article 10-A of the Constitution.

Speaking to the media later, he said parliament had the authority to amend the Constitution and could also reverse or change the court’s decision.

The government, however, was not planning on doing so at the moment, he added.

He has been asked to conclude his arguments on Thursday (today).

Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2012.

COMMENTS (11)

Democrat | 9 years ago | Reply

now this is a new low for mr.ahsan...he is saying parliament can reverse and change any decision of the court... heard it for the first time..but i can ask him that why PPP is not reversing the decision of ZAB case through the parliament? come on..there is a limit...

Ammar | 9 years ago | Reply

@Oopsie!:

You call 20 commentators (who post 10 comments each every day) 20 carore :)

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