After an exhaustive hearing of over 20 petitions challenging the new contempt law, it is now the government’s turn to defend it.
With all eyes now on the government, its counsel, Abdul Shakoor Paracha, requested for more time to prepare arguments – but this request was shot down by the Supreme Court’s five-member bench.
Monday saw the court open its floor to the 27 petitions challenging the Contempt of Court Act 2012. Among those who had challenged the law was the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), which had called a ‘black day’ last week in protest against the contentious Act.
The PBC’s vice-chairman, Latif Afridi, presented his arguments, in which he contended that the Act violated the fundamental rights defined by the Constitution. He, however, did suggest that an amending ordinance should be issued and the new law should be made in consonance with Article 204.
It was earlier reported that the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party had approached the PBC and had asked for suggestions to amend the contempt law in conformity with the Constitution.
“Pakistan’s democracy and judiciary are both infant,” Afridi said before the court on Monday. He underlined the need to nullify the impression of any conflict between parliament and the judiciary. “There is a need to create an impression that the Supreme Court is acting like a doctor and if a case is brought before it, its role should be to treat the patient and not to kill it, though cancerous limbs ought to be amputated.”
During the course of the hearing, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who is heading the bench, observed that the growing interest of the masses in parliament and judiciary was an indication of public awareness which would strengthen democracy in the country. “Change in public attitude is an encouraging sign,” he stated.
The chief justice said that such debates had always produced good results in Europe in the past and it was a “healthy sign” — and will eventually enable consensus to evolve in a country.
Justice Jawwad S Khawja observed that, as nations mature, difference of opinion should not be seen as adversarial between the two bodies.
The chief justice also observed that the court had gone through the parliamentary debate on the Act and was convinced that they were in good spirit. “After going through the speeches, we learnt that they [parliamentarians] have discussed all aspects of the new law,” he said.
Earlier, the court had consumed an entire day listening to speeches made by parliamentarians. The court had also made certain observations over the role of the opposition, particularly its walkout prior to voting over the bill. The opposition, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had expressed disappointment over the remarks made by the judges.
Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani observed that the court had gone through some of the best speeches of parliamentarians over the new law, including those of Raza Rabbani, Aitzaz Ahsan and Haji Adeel.
Justice Khawja observed that though some of Haji Adeel’s remarks were critical to the judiciary, it was his right to speak, which has been protected under Articles 68 and 69 of the Constitution. “Parliamentarians enjoy protection like the judiciary,” he said.
From the next hearing, the government through Paracha and Attorney General Irfan Qadir will present the government’s version on the new law.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2012.