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April 17, 2018

Airing anti-judiciary speeches banned

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April 17, 2018

LAHORE: A three-member Lahore High Court (LHC) full bench on Monday temporarily barred TV channels from broadcasting anti-judiciary speeches delivered by the ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and other PML-N leaders.

Giving the decision on over two dozen petitions filed against ‘anti-judiciary’ speeches uttered by party leaders, the bench— headed by Justice Mazahir Ali Akbar Naqvi and comprising, Justice Atir Mahmood and Justice Chaudhry Masood Jahangir —ordered Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to decide on the complaint pending with it regarding the alleged contemptuous speeches within 15 days and until that time abstain from airing any contemptuous remarks or speeches.

Until the regulatory authority decides the complaints, no alleged "anti-judiciary speeches" delivered by PML-N leaders will be allowed to be aired during the 15 days, the court ruled, directing the Pemra to ensure strict monitoring of programs to prevent any such content from being broadcast.

The court also rejected an application filed by AK Dogar Advocate on behalf of Nawaz, requesting that Justice Naqvi should recuse himself from the full bench. Justice also ruled that the court will personally monitor PEMRA’s conduct in the next two weeks to see how it implements the court’s order.

Azhar Siddique, who was representing one of the petitioners, argued before the court that Article 19-A of the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and the right to "fair criticism" to every citizen.

But Justice Naqvi observed that the constitutional right to fair criticism is conditional to law and regulation. "It can't be that anyone out there goes about denouncing judicial matters and decisions in the name of 'fair criticism'," he remarked, adding that it would make sense for an expert or lawyer to comment on such matters but not everyone can be allowed to do the same.

During the proceedings, the regulatory authority was slammed for dismissing the petitions highlighting anti-judiciary remarks. Azhar informed the court that the Pemra did not take any action over petitions filed regarding anti-judiciary speeches. “My job is to bring anti-judiciary remarks on record,” he said.

Justice Naqvi remarked that while Article 19 of the Constitution allowed fair criticism of judiciary, not every person should be allowed to criticise it just for the sake of exercising their right to criticise. He added that it made sense for a lawyer or an expert to dwell on judicial verdicts but not every other person. Drawing attention to Article 68, Justice Naqvi said it even prevented the Parliament from criticising the judiciary and its decisions. “A person dissatisfied at a verdict should file a review petition,” he added.

Stressing that his client was being subjected to baseless criticism, Pemra counsel Salman Akram Raja said the authority had used its powers to decide on the anti-judiciary remarks issue. He argued that the petitioners were raising unnecessary objections against the regulatory body's authority.

He said Pemra had rejected an application against alleged anti-judiciary speeches on "technical grounds" using its authority.

"Should we not take away from this that [Pemra] allowed airing of anti-judiciary speeches by rejecting the application?" the bench asked. "The Pemra may have been made a minor error [of judgment] by rejecting the application," the counsel responded.

Observing that the Pemra had dismissed the complaints on technical grounds, the bench inquired if the verdict should be taken as a green signal for speeches against the judiciary. Pemra chose to not stop anti-judiciary remarks, said Justice Mehmood. “The authority may have committed a minor mistake by dismissing the petition,” reiterated Raja.

“This is not a minor mistake,” the bench observed. “Instead of taking action, PEMRA sought advice from the judiciary. Should publishing of such a notice be considered a minor mistake?”

Noting that the notice did not prove the authority failed in its duties, Justice Jahangir stressed that it was not fulfilling its responsibilities. Pemra’s counsel admitted that the move was a mistake.

Meanwhile, Dogar again raised objections to the inclusion of Justice Naqvi in the bench. “The judge authored the order against Nawaz Sharif allowing no chance of defence,” the application filed by Dogar reads.

It added that the remarks caused stress to his client after which he expects no fair treatment at the hands of Justice Naqvi. However, the bench rejected his application to reconstitute the bench after exclusion of Justice Naqvi.

The court reserved its decision after hearing all arguments and subsequently announced a 15-day ban on speeches deemed to be contemptuous. At the previous hearing, Dogar had objected to the inclusion of Justice Atir Mehmood on the bench, saying he had previously remained a PTI office-bearer.

Justice Naqvi had said every citizen has right to support any political party and clarified that Justice Mehmood never held any office in the Imran Khan-led party. The defence counsel had insisted it appeared that the bench had already made up its mind about the outcome of the case.

Justice Naqvi had censured the lawyer, saying the court had yet not summoned him for presenting his arguments. The thrice-elected premier has been criticising the courts more than anybody else, he had observed.

The LHC judge affirmed that the bench will dispense justice and decide the case as per law. The petitioners had submitted that Nawaz and his daughter had been criticising the judiciary in their public speeches. They said the regulatory body had so far failed to take any action to stop the airing of the speeches despite the high court orders in this regard.

The petitioners pleaded with the court to initiate contempt of court proceedings against Sharif and his daughter and restrain them from maligning the judiciary.

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