Contempt Proceedings: Jurisdiction Comes First

ISLAMABAD:

In the latest sign that PTI chief Imran Khan’s legal controversies, which have clouded Bani Gala for years, may be entering a protracted new chapter, the sword of contempt hangs on the former prime minister – again .

Experienced lawyers say jurisdictional issues could arise in IHC proceedings, pointing out that it remains to be seen whether high courts have the power to bring contempt suits in the absence of any petition.

They recalled that the Supreme Court has always questioned the suo motu jurisdiction initiated by the high courts. Similarly, when the FIR is registered, the court must also initiate contempt proceedings or not.

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) decided on Monday to initiate contempt proceedings against Imran Khan for making controversial remarks about Judge Zeba Chaudhry.

At a rally in Islamabad’s F-9 park on Saturday, Imran had threatened to file a complaint against the Inspector General (IG) of Police and the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Islamabad Police and had declared: “We will not spare you”. He then warned the judiciary against its “skewed” attitude towards his party, saying it had to prepare for the consequences.

This is not the first time the court has taken up a contempt case against Imran. However, the head of the PTI managed to get help in such cases.

In 2013, the high court summoned cricketer-turned-politician Imran for a contempt hearing over his “critical and derogatory” remarks against the judiciary.

Imran, who then made a major breakthrough in the general election, reportedly said the polls were rigged and criticized the judiciary and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for ignoring it.

“During the press conference on 26.7.2013, he (Khan) said that the role of the judiciary and the electoral commission of Pakistan is shameful in the conduct of the general elections; that the elections were rigged, due to the role played by these two institutions”, the opinion of the supreme court read.

However, in a major relief for Imran, the Supreme Court decided to drop the contempt charges at the suggestion of Pakistan’s then Attorney General, Muneer A Malik.

A three-member bench headed by Judge Anwar Zaheer Jamali rejected the notice after hearing arguments from AGP Munir in the case who said it was not about disobedience.

The judgment stated that it is true that Imran Khan is a public figure and a duly elected member of the National Assembly who has not only been actively involved in politics for a considerable period but also heads a political party.

“In such circumstances, while considering his conduct, we also cannot lose sight of the provisions of Articles 19 and 66 of our Constitution, relating to freedom of speech and the privileges of members of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament).”

“So at this point, as a caveat, we can observe that politicians and other public figures with a say and a following among the public are expected to use more decent and careful language and should be more careful in the choice of at public gatherings or press conferences in order to show their intellect, their maturity of mind and their wisdom in relation to the various national institutions, and to present themselves as role models for society as a whole,” notes the judgement.

Similarly, earlier this year, the Supreme Court declined to initiate contempt proceedings against the head of the PTI for failure to enforce his May 25 order.

The Supreme Court had given clear instructions to stage its Azadi March protest near Peshawar Mor between H-9 and G-9 areas of Islamabad. However, Imran and his protesters headed towards D-Chowk, prompting the government to call in the Pakistani military for security in the capital’s red zone.

The Supreme Court had formed a wider five-member bench, led by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, to hear the petition filed by Pakistan’s Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf.

However, SC Judge Yahya Afridi, while disagreeing with the majority order, observed that contempt proceedings should be brought against PTI Chairman and ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan for ordering the activists and party supporters to march towards D-Chowk in violation of the May 25 SC decision. order.

He noted that there was enough material before the SC to bring contempt proceedings against Imran Khan for violating the May 25 order and ordered party activists and supporters to head to D-Chowk.

However, instead of issuing a notice of contempt, the justices of the majority on June 1 asked for reports from the directors general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Bureau of Intelligence (IB) as well as from Islamabad IG Police, Home Secretary and others over alleged involvement of PTI leaders instigated party workers to reach Islamabad’s D-Chowk in violation of his order of May 25.

Later, the court was told by law enforcement that “a mob was organized to enter the red zone under the direction of the PTI who had reached Express Chowk with the intention of continuing on to D-Chowk according to instructions from the highest party command”.

The case is still pending before the Supreme Court.

Thelma J. Longworth