Public office holders not immune to prosecution

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on Wednesday said the constitution did not provide immunity to any public office-holder for contempt of court.

A five-member SC bench of Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Shakirullah Jan, Justice Khilji Arif Hussain, Justice Jawwad S Khawaja and Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jilani was hearing more than 27 identical petitions challenging the Contempt of Court Act 2012 on Wednesday. The federation’s counsel Abdul Shakoor Paracha concluded his arguments before the bench. Submitting his arguments‚ Paracha said legislation was the prerogative of parliament which could not be challenged.

He said the new contempt of court law did not in any way undermine the dignity of the judiciary, adding that doubting the intention of parliament was equivalent to doubting the intentions of the nation.Paracha said parliament had the authority to grant immunity to anyone, adding that parliament could also legislate on the subject of immunity. “The constitution’s Article 204 refers to the powers of the judiciary,” Paracha added. He also said Yousaf Raza Gilani had been convicted by the court for contempt and that that could not become a precedent.

“The new contempt of court law was passed not to grant immunity to persons but to the steps taken by public office-holders in line of duty,” Paracha said. The chief justice remarked that the law said that a few people were exempted from contempt of court no matter what they said in court, adding that parliament introduced a law while the judiciary elucidated it. He said if someone used contemptuous language against the judiciary and then said his intention was not bad, how he could be pardoned.

He further argued how could one prime minister be punished for not writing the letter to Swiss authorities while the other was left untouched. “Those found guilty of the contempt will be punished, and there is no categorization in this regard,” he remarked. During the proceedings, Justice Jawwad S Khawaja said parliament should work within its jurisdiction, adding that it could not intervene in the legislative matters of the provinces.

Meanwhile, Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jilani said a law passed by simple majority could not violate the spirit of the constitution. Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry said parliamentarians who were involved in the contempt of the court case would face a reference under Article 63-C1. The bench later adjourned the hearing until today (Thursday) when Attorney General Irfan Qadir is expected to present his arguments. – PT