“The new contempt law that grants immunity to public functionaries against contempt of court can lead to great anxiety among the people to an extent that can lead to anarchy” former Supreme Court Bar Association president Asma Jahangir said on Friday.
She was speaking at the South Asia Free Media Association.
Expressing her reservation over certain provisions in the new contempt law, Jahangir criticised the immunity granted to holders of public office under the new law.
She said these provisions in the new contempt law were in violation of Article 19-A of the Constitution that protected the right to the access to information.
She said according to the new law a contempt notice could not be issued unless a final judgment in the original case was issued. This, she said, led to curtailing the rights of the judiciary.
“During this interim period, contempt of court becomes easier,” she added.
However, at the same time Jahangir also suggested that the courts should exercise restraint in issuing contempt notices.
“Even if a person stares [at the judge], the court issues him a contempt notice,” she said.
She argued that such frequent issuance of notices could leave people scared to criticise the courts and discourage the people from pointing out things “deserving criticism”.
This would also lead to criticism from the people, she added.
She said issuing contempt notices was a tool for administration of justice and should be used only when actually required.
“Parliament has the right to make laws and the judiciary can intervene if these laws are in conflict with the provision of basic rights of a citizen,” she said.
Jahangir said it was not about which institution was supreme, but about the parliament and the judiciary respecting each other.
Speaking about the ban on dual nationality holders in public offices, Jahangir said a constitutional amendment was required.
Any law, she said, that was formulated to protect the interest of a single person never survived long.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2012.