A Pakistani QB VII?

Even if former CJ wins the case, in process he would damage his own reputation & that of institution he presided over.

Ikram Sehgal August 07, 2014

Serving a defamation notice on the PTI Chairman, Imran Khan, for “levelling baseless allegations” against him and the judiciary, former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry threatened civil and criminal proceedings “in accordance with the law, both inside and outside the jurisdiction of Pakistan, if unconditional apology is not tendered…”. The notice claimed in damages, “a token sum of Rs 15 billion only and another rupees five billion only as damages for mental agonies, torture, harassment, humiliation, etc., caused to me as well as my family.”

The former chief justice of Pakistan said that he was seeking legal recourse “because he believed strongly that our country should be governed by the rule of law and that his hard-earned reputation must remain protected.” His exact words indicting Imran Khan were, “Adventurers like you who casually assault the reputations of innocents for gaining political mileage must not be allowed to get away with impunity.”

Defendants in any libel case will first attempt to demolish the credibility of the complainant. Those aggrieved by the former CJ’s arrogant behaviour, presiding imperiously over the SC, will have a field day exploiting the former CJ’s fault lines and that of his son (and Achilles heel), Dr Arsalan Iftikhar. The holier than thou Arsalan who keeps mum about the taxes that the one-man inquiry commission appointed by the SC, Federal Ombudsman Dr Shoaib Suddle, said he should pay, is seeking to disqualify Imran under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution.

QB VII is the standard abbreviation for the “Queen’s Bench seven” courthouse in London. Published in 1970 by Leon Uris, the facts in “QB VII” are loosely based on an actual libel action brought against Leon Uris by Dr Wladislaw Dering, a Polish physician who worked at Auschwitz, for his novel “Exodus”. The lawsuit and trial was documented in ‘Auschwitz in England’ by Barristers Mavis M. Hill and Norman Williams in 1965.

QB VII is centered on Dr Sir Adam Kelno. Pressed into service by the Nazis as Head Physician in a Concentration Camp, he was rescued by the Russians near the end of World War II from a Nazi prison camp. Communist Poland demanded his extradition for war crimes, accusing him of performing several thousand surgeries on his fellow Jewish prisoners. Kelno was set free when the Polish request was denied. Describing the Holocaust, Abraham Cady, a flying ace during the war who later became a novelist, included a portion about Kelno being a prison-doctor collaborating with the Nazis in conducting medical experiments on the interned Jews.

At first, Dr Kelno is staunchly defended in court for his alleged collaboration with the Nazis. As more evidence comes to light about his ghastly medical experiments, his past is exposed before the public and instead of being the accuser, Dr Kelno becomes the accused. The jury found for the plaintiff in the actual event. QB VII actually indicted the plaintiff in public perception for collaborating with the Nazis, the defendant is guilty of only a minor exaggeration. While Dr Kelno won the case on technical grounds but in awarding him damages amounting to the lowest coin in the realm, the jury censored him on moral grounds.

A libel suit is very much like a rape case, it invariably puts the petitioner in the dock. With the defendant casting aspersion on his/her credibility makes it double jeopardy for both the petitioner and the defendant. The unwarranted public cynosure leads to an open season on the rape victim and a matter of deep embarrassment and shame. In effect, she is virtually ‘raped’ again in the court of cynical public perception.

Ironically, the analogy of the former CJ’s defamation initiative is the same as the Pandora’s box opened by Musharraf and his generals trying to railroad him out of office. The former CJ’s similarly defamation is a double-edged sword, not good either for him or for the country. Because of the internet ‘brand’ vilification, even if the facts are without substance, it will become viral in public perception in no time at all.

In the best case scenario for the former CJ, even if he wins the case on technical legal grounds, he would in the process damage his own reputation and that of the institution he presided over. As the defendant said in QB VII before the verdict is read, “Nobody’s going to win this trial; we’re all losers.”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2014.

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