Déjà vu: Apex court summons Premier Ashraf

Bench expresses frustration at lack of ‘meaningful process’.

Azam Khan August 08, 2012

ISLAMABAD: Having seemingly lost patience with the attorney-general’s dilly-dallying, the apex court on Wednesday summoned Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to appear before it on August 27.

Served with a show-cause notice, the premier will now have to explain in person to a five-member bench why he has not followed the orders of the court in the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) judgment implementation case – specifically the instructions to write a letter to Swiss authorities regarding graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

The notice was served under section 17 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003 – the same law that was temporarily overturned by a contentious new act until it was struck down by the apex court – read with Article 204 of the Constitution.

The bench observed that the court had been pushed to summon the premier – pointing to what they termed the calculated defiance on the part of the prime minister via delaying tactics. Notably, the court also had some ominous words for the government: while such delay tactics may know no bounds, the restraint exercised by the court is also limited.

The court observed that, despite clear orders passed on July 25 – which stated that, in case of the premier’s failure to implement court orders, appropriate action could be taken against him – there was no “meaningful progress” on the matter. In an ominous comparison, the court also recalled that former premier Yousaf Raza Gilani had also deliberately violated the court’s direct orders on writing the letter to Swiss authorities – and now Prime Minister Ashraf, it said, was doing the same. Gilani had also been summoned before being charged with contempt.

Attorney-General Irfan Qadir sought more time from the court and requested that the hearing be adjourned till the first week of September, given that the case is of “sensitive nature”. However, the court denied his request and said that he had already been given enough time in the case. The court recalled that the attorney-general had been unable to bring the government’s reply on the letter since as far back as July 12.

Qadir argued that he has been trying to ‘fill the gap’ between institutions, he would  be unable to do this unless more time was given. At this, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan observed that if this was indeed the attorney-general’s intention, enough time had been provided to execute it. “Before adjourning the hearing, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said that he has hopes that we will find a way, according to law and the Constitution. We will make efforts to prevent a situation where institutions are in clash with each other,” he said.

Having offered breathing room to the government, and spoken about finding middle ground on the matter at the last hearing, the court on Wednesday observed that the ruling party’s rhetoric didn’t suggest that they wanted a resolution of the issue. The court was particularly perturbed by a TV interview of Law Minister Farooq H Naek the previous evening in which he said that government has already written letter for which the court had asked it and that a review petition would be filed against NRO judgment. The bench also noted that the attorney-general’s language at the previous hearing was also similar in nature given that he questioning the implement-ability of the orders.

The court clarified that the issue being heard in this case was not whether the orders or the NRO judgment was implementable or not – but whether they are being followed: “We had on the last date of hearing, and we have today, remained unable to subscribe to the said submission of the Attorney-General on account of the fact that the said judgments passed by a larger bench of this court and by the full court respectively have already attained finality and also because the present bench is only seized of implementation proceedings vis-à-vis those judgments. It goes without saying that an implementation bench cannot go behind a concluded and final judgment or revisit the same.”

The Supreme Court once again stressed that Prime Minister Ashraf should comply with its orders and write a letter to Swiss authorities.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2012.

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