Saturday December 09, 2023

Contempt proceedings against Firdous Ashiq Awan: Justice Maqbool Baqar’s note endorses majority judgment

November 05, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Justice Maqbool Baqar, in his dissenting note in the Justice Qazi Faez Isa case, endorsed the majority judgment for initiation of contempt of court proceedings against Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan.

The note said that Dr Awan is liable for committing contempt of court for the uncalled for and disrespectful comments [against Justice Isa] she made in her press conference.

The majority verdict, released a few days ago, had ruled that by her conduct [at the presser] she had violated not only Rule 13 of the 2005 rules but also prima facie breached Article 204 of the Constitution by committing contempt against a sitting Supreme Court judge. Consequently, she should be made answerable for her conduct under Article 204(2)(b) through independent proceedings.

In May 2019, when Dr Awan had held the news conference and made “derogatory, scandalous” remarks against Justice Isa, she was the special assistant to the prime minister on information. For other reasons, she was relieved of the office in April this year. Two days back, she was appointed the special assistant to the Punjab chief minister on information. The Punjab advocate general cautioned the provincial government about her selection in view of the apex court’s directives to start contempt proceedings against her.

In his dissenting note, Justice Maqbool Baqar wrote that it is significant to note with regard to the mala fide conduct of the president and others that though the purported reference was signed by the president on May 20, 2019 and through a letter dated May 23, 2019, forwarded by the law secretary to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) secretary under the seal and strict confidence, it was put before the SJC chairman on May 29. The chairman ordered that it be fixed before the SJC on June 14, and notice be issued to the attorney general of Pakistan. However, by the afternoon of May 28 (a day earlier), the reference and its contents had already been leaked to the media.

The note said that it was obvious that the leak came from the executive, which “shows their malice.” Even the precise addresses of the properties and their purchase prices had reached the public domain. Two days after on May 30, Dr Awan, held a press conference in which she stated that the reference was “ehtisaab ka shakinja” (snare of accountability) against Justice Isa as he had “played a shot by stepping out of the crease”.

The dissenting ruling said that the Assets Recovery Unit (ARU) and law ministry had also issued separate press releases on June 2 in relation to this secret and confidential reference, announcing that they had filed it after due verification and obtaining evidence from the UK. Both the law minister and the ARU chairman are barristers and thus supposed to know the law and their ministerial responsibilities. Justice Isa’s image was systematically damaged through these selected leaks and press conferences by the cabinet members, it said.

The note said that by the time the contents of the reference were published by the media on May 28, there were only five people who knew of the reference, the president, the prime minister, the law minister, the attorney general and the ARU chairman. The then chief justice and the SJC secretary were also in the loop, but even the federation has not alleged that the leak came from them. One or more of these five state functionaries at the highest level leaked this information or sanctioned its leak, Justice Baqar maintained. This was clearly an act of malice.

Justice Maqbool Baqar wrote: “We have already held that the law minister and the ARU chairman are liable under the relevant provisions of the Income Tax Ordinance (ITO), 2001, and NADRA Ordinance. In addition to these two respondents, the prime minister himself is liable under the above law as it was ordered by him and by his team that all the illegalities noted in the present judgment were committed. He is also liable for sending the purported advice to the president, which in the facts and circumstances of the case, was infected with malice. Dr Awan is liable for committing contempt of Court for the uncalled for and disrespectful comments she made in her press conference as noted.”

The majority judgment said Justice Isa’s counsel also raised the issue of Dr Awan’s press conference and criticised the derogatory manner in which she discussed the reference and argued that this was irrefutable proof of the respondent’s ill-will against the judge. “We are in agreement with the learned counsel that the press conference was in bad taste. Even though, by May 30, 2019 the news about the reference was already in the public domain, Mrs. Awan used the information for political point-scoring. It is not the petitioner’s case that she had any role in preparing or framing the reference. Therefore, her press conference cannot have any consequences vis-a-vis the reference. However, even if the poor choice of words used by Mrs. Awan cannot on their own amount to malice in fact, their hostile and scandalous content during the press conference prima facie shows that she was deriding the petitioner (or was at least attempting to). . .”

Firdous Ashiq Awan said that she could not think of bringing dishonour to courts and judges as she always keep judges and courts in high esteem. She said that he had even least idea of throwing humiliation to the judges and courts in the said press conference and she had no such intention. She said that she is a law abiding citizen and has never thought of violating laws of the land.