The contempt ordinance of 2003 provides more of a fair trial than the newly-promulgated contempt act, believes Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
Presiding over a five-member bench hearing petitions challenging the contentious Contempt of Court Act 2012 on Tuesday, the chief justice said the new law was criminal, and did not even provide procedures for civil, criminal, and judicial contempt.
The bench said that, in the presence of the 2003 law, there was no need for the 2012 one. Justice Jawwad S Khawaja remarked that the 2012 law was an attempt to grant immunity to the elite class. He said contempt would become meaningless as a result of this practice. The bench also observed that the Contempt Ordinance 2003 has protection under the 18th Amendment, adding that it was also properly considered law in 2010 when parliamentarians passed the 18th Amendment.
Advocate Hamid Khan, representing the Karachi Bar Association, which is one of the many petitioners in the case, argued that the new contempt law has been passed in hurry, adding: “Actually, in the garb of a new act, the government wants to snatch the court power of regulation mentioned under Article 204 (3) of the Constitution.”
Khan added that the new law is replica of Contempt Act 1976 and only the clause related to immunity to the president, prime minister, governor, chief ministers and ministers is new. The court observed that, throughout the world, the trend is to try and minimise the scope of immunity, but, in Pakistan, those at the helm of affairs are extending it to all public office holders.
Khan argued that section 3, 4, 7, 8, 11 and 12 of the Contempt Act 2012 are all against the Constitution. He added that, if these sections are removed from the new law, then the entire act basically could not survive and would be rendered incoherent. In his arguments the KBA’s counsel presented a history of the contempt law in Pakistan, and also compared different laws promulgated in the country at different times.
Ashraf Gujjar, former president of Islamabad High Court Bar Association, contended that the new contempt act is against the basic theme and main structure of the Constitution and aims at creating different classes. Advocate Liaquat Qureshi, another petitioner, argued that the new law was not thoroughly debated before legislation.
The hearing was adjourned till Wednesday.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2012.