ISLAMABAD: The government’s defence of the contentious contempt law got off to a rather unexpected start on Tuesday.
The federation’s counsel admitted in front of the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the Contempt of Court Law 2012 could have been aimed at saving the skin of newly-appointed Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf – thereby conceding an important point of contention against the new law: it violates the concept of equality as a person-specific law.
“Yes, this could be a motive,” the counsel for the federation, Abdul Shakoor Paracha, shockingly acknowledged while responding to Justice Khilji Arif Hussain’s no-nonsense question: “(Are you saying) the new law has been introduced to save the prime minister?”
The apex court was questioning over two dozen petitioners about the legal status of the contempt law when Paracha conceded a possible ulterior motive. Since the law was passed, the government has never admitted that the purpose of the legislation was to save the incumbent premier from disqualification.
“Everything (regarding the law) is known and I will not hide anything or lie just because the federation has engaged me as a counsel,” Paracha told the court. But the counsel was also quick to add, “Democratic institutions will not become strong if democratic prime ministers are sent home.”
The government’s counsel didn’t seem to make much of an impression on the court.
While managing to agree on a possible political motive behind the law, Paracha and the court did not see eye to eye on much else. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry observed that the court was not fond of disqualifying prime ministers.
When Paracha pointed to the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) implementation case and the disqualification of one prime minister already, Justice Jawwad S Khawaja observed, “… No this is not the case, [the government] has passed a new law in three minutes.”
Paracha then argued that insisting on the implementation of the NRO judgment was not conducive. “Corruption will not end in one day. Fresh elections are around the corner and things will get better after some time,” he added, to which the chief justice curtly responded: “We have nothing to do with elections.”
The federation’s counsel then took a different tack, arguing that every institution should perform its own role, but the chief justice was quick to respond to this as well: “It is [the government’s] duty to take steps to strengthen democracy whereas it is our duty to interpret law. It is not our job to deal with load-shedding.”
Paracha himself had acknowledged earlier during proceedings that state institutions had failed to deliver, to which Justice Mian Shakirullah Jan observed, “The mere resignation of the chief executive is not enough when state organs fail to deliver; he should be held accountable.”
Referring to the lack of a precedent, Paracha argued that none of the petitioners were aggrieved by the new law, and had only challenged it on the basis of mere apprehensions. There was not a single case in which the court had exercised its jurisdiction on the basis of apprehensions, he added.
The federation’s counsel further requested that the apex court refer the matter to the high courts. Justice Khawaja declined, saying that to do so would merely open a “new Pandora’s box”. Paracha also said that all the petitioners had failed to establish how the new law violates Article 2A of the Constitution and Islamic law.
The chief justice remained unconvinced, saying that the new law had violated the concept of equality in Islam, adding that this had been argued by several petitioners.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2012.