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Contempt Law Case: SC rejects govt plea to form full bench

24 July, 2012

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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday rejected the federation's plea of a full court to hear the 26 petitions against the Contempt of Court Act 2012.

A five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is hearing 26 identical petitions filed by lawyers' bodies and the Pakistan Bar Council against the new contempt law. It also issued notices to the federation, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, Senate Chairman Syed Nayyar Bukhari, National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza, Law Minister Farooq H Naek, Attorney General of Pakistan Irfan Qadir and the Cabinet Division secretary.

The federation's counsel, former PCO judge Abdul Shakoor Piracha, requested the case be heard by a full court and that the federation be given one or two weeks over the petitions against the law.

Responding to Paracha's request, Justice Iftikhar said the court had already given ample time to the federation, adding the issue was significant and a decision over it was important. Paracha said such a case against the contempt of court law had not been heard in the country's history.

Upon this, the CJP said a similar case had been heard by the court in 1996 by a four-judge bench headed by Ajmal Mian, the then chief justice of the Supreme Court. He also said the court always welcomed fair criticism on its judgements as Article 248 of the constitution did not give complete immunity to anyone.

The court observed that Article 204 empowered the Supreme Court to make rules and that power can't be given to parliament or executive. They can't start regulating the rule-making power, and the Contempt of Court (CoC) Act 2012 is repealing those provisions. The court also remarked that the contempt law could only be changed within the limits of Article 204 of the constitution. Ikram Chaudhry, counsel for Siddique Baloch, said the new law violates articles 175 and 204, adding that the CoC Act 2012 is another National Reconciliation Ordinance, as it encroaches upon the independence of the judiciary.

Justice Jawwad S Khawaja said all the 26 petitions, filed by lawyers' associations and advocates, sought that the new act be set aside. He said according to item 55 of the Federal Legislative List, the power of the court cannot be enlarged or shrunk.

Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani inquired from the counsel which sections of the new law he deemed violative of the constitution, saying, "We're more concerned with the administration of the justice. If we can't enforce the judgement then what is the use of passing verdicts."

Justice Khawaja remarked that under the new law, scandalising a judge is tantamount to contempt, but ridiculing the court is not. He asked Ikram Chaudhry to inform the court which sections were contradictory to the constitution.

Syed Mehmood Akhtar Naqvi, another petitioner, argued that the new law was passed to protect certain personalities and to curtail the independence of the court. He said government wanted to save prime minister from committing contempt. He also said as the matter was sub judice, the federal cabinet and then parliament should not have passed it. He prayed the court to suspend the new law and declare it null and void.

Later, the court adjourned the hearing until today.


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