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Pakistan govt to challenge scrapping of contempt law

Publication Date : 06-08-2012

 

Having burnt its fingers by not filing a review petition against the order which declared former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani guilty of contempt of court, the government of Pakistan has decided to challenge the Supreme Court’s Aug 3 decision which struck down the controversial Contempt of Court Act (COCA) 2012.

In April when the Supreme Court convicted Gilani of committing contempt of court, disqualified him and sent him home the government didn’t go into appeal.

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar confirmed to Dawn that the government had decided in principle to file a review petition against the SC decision nullifying the new contempt of court law which had been passed by the two houses of parliament last month.

Babar said the government would also contest the apex court’s July 12 order in which Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had been asked to implement the National Reconciliation Order (NRO) judgment and write a letter to Swiss courts for re-opening cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

Prime Minister Ashraf has been given the deadline of August 8 to submit his response in the NRO judgment implementation case.

When asked how quickly the attorney general would file the two review petitions — considering that on August 8 the SC will be hearing the NRO case — the spokesman said: “I cannot give you the exact date, but it will be done as soon as possible.”

Replying to another question, Babar said the decision to go into appeal against the SC decision had been taken in consultation with allied parties and legal experts.

Sources claimed it was only at the insistence of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) that President Zardari, who is also co-chairman of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), agreed to go into appeal. Otherwise, PPP hawks were for a presidential ordinance on the lines of COCA to provide immunity to PM Ashraf.

However, legal experts are sceptical about the review petitions helping the government to buy adequate time that it needs.

“As long as the Supreme Court doesn’t issue a stay order against its August 3 decision on COCA, the decision will remain in effect. Admissibility of a review petition does not automatically disqualify the original decision that remains in place till the time the court decides otherwise,” SC lawyer Salman Akram Raja said.

“Yes, if the government goes into appeal prior to August 8, the prime minister in his reply to the court can argue that he has gone into appeal against the July 12 decision and, hence, he should be given time,” he said in reply to a question, adding that it was up to the court whether to accept this argument.

Barrister Zafarullah Khan termed the proposed move as a time-buying tactic and said historically speaking review petitions had always little chance of success.

“Even if the SC decides to hear the review petition and doesn’t reject it forthwith, the original decision on COCA will remain in the field until and unless the court suspends it in so many words,” he said.

“It’s very rare that the court suspends its own decision while hearing a review petition,” added Barrister Khan who was one of the petitioners against COCA.

Replying to another question, he said there wasn’t any immediate threat to the new prime minister. “Following in the footsteps of his predecessor, even if Mr Ashraf refuses to write the said letter the court will first issue him a show-cause notice, followed by a formal charge-sheet and trial, before taking a final decision about him,” Barrister Khan said.

Commenting on the executive-judiciary tussle, a senior SC lawyer who declined to come on record said this game of cat and the mouse would continue between PPP leaders and judges in coming weeks.

“I personally believe this time the court will not send the prime minister home for not writing the letter and may keep on putting pressure on the government that could lead to early elections.”

 

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