Monday June 24, 2024

Senators urge SC to show restraint in contempt cases

Law minister calls for end to institutional interference, use of contempt as "weapon" against lawmakers

By Mumtaz Alvi
May 23, 2024
(From left to right) Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, PML-Ns Talal Chaudhry, and MQM-Ps Faisal Sabzwari, speaking during a Senate session, on May 22, 2024. — Screengrab via YouTube/GeoNews
(From left to right) Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, PML-N's Talal Chaudhry, and MQM-P's Faisal Sabzwari, speaking during a Senate session, on May 22, 2024. — Screengrab via YouTube/GeoNews

ISLAMABAD: Amid calls in the Senate on Wednesday for restraint from the judiciary with regard to the contempt cases, Awami National Party President Senator Aimal Wali Khan feared that the parliament was being used against an institution.

Taking part in the informal discussion on the judiciary, Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar, who also has the portfolio of Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, suggested sending the judiciary matter to the Senate Secretariat. He requested the chair that the matter be referred to the Senate Secretariat, which should prepare a report and put up a note to the chairman for future course of action. His request was accepted by the chair.

The minister said service of public was also involved in politics. “We should talk to each other. Will politicians always face punishment? Sometime they will hang a prime minister, and sometime send another home,” he remarked.

He said, “We also face criticism, but the institutions that are working should also work within their jurisdiction. Yesterday, I held a press conference, and I stand by my point.

“The Constitution of Pakistan does not give any court the authority to utter in anger whatever they want. It should not be said that if this work does not happen now, then the prime minister or the cabinet will be called here,” he added.

“They are elected representatives; the Constitution does not give any court the authority to summon the prime minister. What is this way of running the court,” he added.

The minister insisted, “These institutions are formed by the power of people; parliament is the supreme institution… we have to protect our rights, to say about a person that he is an agent of so-and-so is wrong”.

PMLN Senator Talal Chaudhry said he was awarded the contempt of court sentence for standing by his party leadership in the Panama case. “I did not get pardon from the court but General Bajwa got an extension the same day,” he remarked.

He claimed that there was no law of equality and only specific persons were subjected to the contempt of court law. “During Panama cases hearing, I used to go to see the court proceedings and them inform the media about it. Then I was also subjected to the contempt of court law,” Talal added.

He said notice was taken against him because he had said in a rally that the ‘PCO’ judges should be removed. He recalled that no one was ready to become his lawyer on the contempt notice. “Asma Jahangir took my case, but she died. Then Kamran Murtaza pleaded my case; there was no apology for me,” he added.

Talal said the law of contempt of court had been abolished all over the world, but here in Pakistan, the tactics of the 19th century were still being used, so that no one could speak, he regretted. He said dignity of the judiciary could be enhanced by punishing breakers of the Constitution and not makers of the law.

Talal claimed when Nawaz Sharif’s case was being heard, a [former CJP] Saqib Nisar sent him a message that “if you give statements against Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, then you will go to the Parliament, otherwise you will have to go to jail”.

He concluded his speech with a couplet: “If I keep quiet, my conscience will kill me; If I testify, I will be killed in the court.”

Senator Aimal Wali pointed out that the agenda for the session was different on papers, but it appeared the session had specifically been convened to call the judiciary and judges into question.

He believed that the parliament was once again being used against an institution, with nobody talking about those who were using it, and noted those who were strongly talking about the rule of law and the Constitution today, were the beneficiaries [of violation of the Constitution] in the past. A game, he insisted, was being played under which beneficiaries of the past become victims, and vice versa and noted that they accept everything when they are among beneficiaries. Aimal said they would not talk about missing persons and added that it was the issue of enforced disappearances that had brought the judiciary and the parliament face to face.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Senator Mohsin Aziz agreed the dignity of the parliament had to be protected, but emphasised that the forum must not be used to advance personal agendas. He recalled that Vawda had been disqualified by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and then the decision was upheld by the judiciary. Nobody had ever talked about denial of level playing field to the PTI during the general election, he pointed out and added that politically motivated cases were registered against the party founder, and a resolution seeking delay of polls was passed by Senate with just 12 members present in the house. However, he said all institutions should be respected and they should remain within their constitutional domains.

MQM’s Faisal Sabzwari said a game involving selective justice was being played, and it appeared that except the chosen representatives and ‘chosen of the chosen’, everybody else was respectable. He regretted that insulting remarks against elected representatives were passed on TV screens. He said the judiciary not only allowed Musharraf to re-write the constitution, a former chief justice also re-wrote the constitution. He insisted that the parliament was supreme and no institution was above it.

He recalled a poet had said many decades ago that “you dared to speak the truth, but this was also contempt of the court”. And this was followed by desk-thumping by some members. He was of the view that there should be no dichotomy in decisions and this must not depend on one’s mood also.

Referring to Faisal Vawda, he said the senator was called a proxy. Hamid Khan had mentioned about the proxy of a Lahore High Court judge in his book, who would act on his behalf. “Then yes, Faisal Vawda is a proxy of people, who had elected him to this House, and even then if he should be called a proxy in a negative sense, then it hurts the dignity of the representatives of this House,” Senator Sabzwari said.

JUIF’s Kamran Murtaza said they stood for the respect of members and the house, but the only objective behind summoning the session in haste was apparently targeting some judges.

“A Supreme Court judge and some judges of the IHC are being targeted. Reasons for this are crystal clear. Judges are targeted in the country when judgments do not come according to wishes of some certain people,” he claimed.

He pointed out that the Senate was summoned despite it had no meaningful business and it started a debate on a sub judice matter when a contempt notice had been served on a member of the House. “Whether it is good that treasury members target some intuitions and the judges sitting over there,” he said.

It appeared, he noted, that a proxy had been launched against some judges, and “we have become accomplice in moving forward that proxy”.

MWM’s Allama Raja Nasir Abbas, in his maiden speech on floor of the House, urged that there should be rule of law in the country and the country should be run under the Constitution. He said the country’s present precarious situation was due to the power politics.

Winding up the debate related to judiciary, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar clarified that the session was summoned under the parliamentary calendar. He said it was not matter of clash of institutions. He endorsed remarks of Senator Aimal that they had not learnt lessons from the past and added that they needed some introspection.

Earlier, responding to a calling attention notice, Federal Minister for Privatisation Abdul Aleem Khan informed the Senate that the government would ensure transparency in privatisation of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

The calling attention notice was about “lack of transparency in all stages of the divestment and privatisation of the PIA, including the financial process, issuance of expression of interest, bidding, contract awarding, and segregation of core and non-core assets and liabilities”, the minister assured that the entire process would be broadcast live and nothing would be hidden from the public and their representatives.

The Senate passed a motion to elect the Senate Finance Committee, comprising members as per the proposed list, authorising the chairman of the Senate to make changes to the composition of the committee as he deems fit. He noted that the composition of the committee had been finalised by the chairman in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. The House will now meet on Friday morning