As the government rolls up its sleeves to alter the contempt law, the Supreme Court has already made it crystal clear that it will not compromise its jurisdiction to take up such cases – setting the stage for yet another clash between the executive and the judiciary, even if the government succeeds in passing the proposed law.
Interestingly, the Supreme Court touched on the subject in detail, days before the federal cabinet approved the draft law, when it released its detailed judgment in former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s contempt case on July 3.
“The Constitution contains a scheme for the distribution of powers between various organs and authorities of the State, and to the superior judiciary is allotted the very responsible though delicate duty of containing all other authorities within their jurisdiction by investing the former with powers to intervene whenever any person exceeds his lawful authority,” said the detailed verdict.
The cabinet of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, whose future also hangs in the balance for the same reason that caused his predecessor’s disqualification, recently gave approval to the draft law and sent it to parliament to curtail the judiciary’s powers in matters pertaining to contempt of court.
The Supreme Court verdict goes on to state that it will not compromise on its review jurisdiction, as the judges of the superior courts are under a solemn oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution”.
The judgment states that “after all, if orders or directions of the highest court of the country are defied by the highest executive of the country then others in the country may also feel tempted to follow the example leading to a collapse or paralysis of administration of justice besides creating an atmosphere wherein judicial authority and verdicts are laughed at and ridiculed.”
The judgment also cited as precedent when President Asif Ali Zardari was denied administering oath back in 1999 by the then Senate chairman, but the courts overruled the chairman’s ruling and intervened to provide relief to Zardari.
The judgment also mentioned the NRO cases, saying they were taken up by the courts after parliament did not take any decision to validate the ordinance and left it to the court to make a final decision. The detailed judgment also expressed its respect for parliament. The top judge of the country authored the judgment, which explains the circumstances under which the chief executive of the country was tried, convicted and disqualified.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry summed up the court’s respect for democracy and rule of law in the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) case: “This court referred all such ordinances, including the NRO, 2007 to parliament for the purpose of validation or otherwise. This act of the court demonstrates the respect it has for the legislature because the court instead of determining the fate of those ordinances itself left it to be decided by parliament or the concerned provincial assembly.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2012.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ