ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday issued show-cause notices to Editor-in-Chief, Editor and Editor Investigations of an English daily as well as former Chief Justice, Gilgit Baltistan, in a case regarding allegations against former Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Mian Saqib Nisar.
Chief Justice Islamabad High Court Justice Athar Minallah the other day took notice of the news published in an English and Urdu daily by Ansar Abbasi regarding an affidavit given by Rana Muhammad Shamim, former Chief Judge of Gilgit Baltistan.
Ansar Abbasi, in his story, had published an affidavit of an ex-chief justice of Gilgit Appellate Court, Rana M Shamim, claiming that former CJP Nisar, in his presence, called an IHC judge and told him to keep Nawaz and Maryam Nawaz in jail during the 2018 elections.
The IHC had summoned Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, the Editor-in-Chief of the English daily, Editor Aamir Ghauri, Editor Investigations Ansar Abbasi as well as former chief justice Gilgit Baltistan, Rana Shamim in-person and to state as to why not a contempt of court proceeding should be initiated against them.
In pursuance of the court's order, all the respondents, except Rana Shamim, appeared before the court on Tuesday wherein the court directed its office to issue show-cause notices to all the persons under the Contempt of Court ordinance 2003 with the direction to submit their respective replies within seven days. They were further directed to appear in person on November 26, 2021. Rana Shamim was represented by his son Advocate Ahmed Hasan Rana.
The court also appointed Vice Chairman, Pakistan Bar Council, the President, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Faisal Siddiqui, ASC and Ms Reema Omer as amici curiae to assist the court.
Similarly, the court directed that Attorney General for Pakistan or the Advocate General, Islamabad Capital Territory, as the case may be, shall prosecute the alleged contemnors.
"Pursuant to order, dated 15.11.2021, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, Editor-in-Chief, Aamir Ghauri, Chief Editor, and Ansar Abbasi, have appeared. Ahmed Hassan Rana, Advocate, has appeared on behalf of Rana Mohammad Shamim, who informed that the latter was not well and, therefore, he could not appear today," says the order passed by Chief Justice, Islamabad High Court, Athar Minallah.
During the course of hearing, Ansar Abbasi, Editor Investigation of The News, was asked whether he had contacted the Registrar of this court before filing his news report and whether the verification of the contents of the purported affidavit were made in accordance with the editorial policy and journalistic norms.
He stated that confirmation of the affidavit was sought from its executor i.e. Rana Mohammad Shamim. He further stated that he was only a "messenger" and had not violated any journalistic norm. "However, admittedly no attempt was made to seek clarification from the Registrar of this Court nor to verify the contents of the purported affidavit," says the court order.
The court observed that he (Ansar Abbasi) was unaware that Justice Khawaja Aamir Farooq was not a member of the Bench nor that the latter at the relevant time was abroad on ex-Pakistan leave.
The court order further stated that the counsels for the appellants who were seeking suspension of sentence were also not contacted to verify whether they had requested that the petition be fixed before the general elections which were held on 25.07.2018.
"The then Registrar of the Supreme Court, referred to in the purported affidavit, was also not contacted," the court noted down in its order adding that he could also not give any satisfactory justification for notarization of the purported affidavit, in the United Kingdom, on 10.11.2021, while the brother of the executor had passed away in Pakistan on 06.11.2021.
The court further noted down in its order that Rana Mohammad Shamim was appointed as the Chief Judge of the Supreme Appellate Court of Gilgit Baltistan in 2015.
"It is an admitted position that he asserts to have overheard the conversation of the former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, in July 2018," according to the court order.
The court observed that Ansar Abbasi did not inquire from him regarding his silence for almost four years, adding that the allegations made in the purported affidavit definitely amounted to grave misconduct.
"It was his duty to have immediately reported the matter to the Supreme Judicial Council because he himself was holding a responsible judicial office", the court further noted down in its order.
The court held that there was also no explanation of the timing of releasing the purported affidavit to a reputable newspaper because the matter related to pending proceedings and the appeals were fixed for hearing on 17.11.2021. The court further noted that inaction on part of Rana Mohammad Shamim and his subsequent conduct was unbecoming of a judicial officer and, prima-facie, raises questions regarding his bonafides and integrity. The court further noted that the aforementioned crucial factors were not verified by Ansar Abbasi, Aamir Ghauri, Editor, and Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, Editor-in-Chief.
"In the facts and circumstances, there is a presumption that the contents of the purported affidavit are false unless it is rebutted," the court further noted in its order.
The court noted that the purported affidavit was not part of any judicial proceedings adding that it related to the appeals pending before this court and which were fixed for hearing on 17.11.2021.
"The Editor and Editor-in-Chief were unable to give a satisfactory explanation in the light of the editorial principles and tenets of journalism," says the court order.
The court held that the object to publish the news story regarding the purported affidavit, prima-facie, appears to have been an attempt to obstruct the administration of justice.
"Judges ought to be accountable and open to criticism but interference with the administration of justice, casting unfounded aspersions on the integrity, independence and impartiality of a court, shakes the foundations of the source of justice and the confidence of the people in the judicial system", the court noted in its order.
The court held that imputing oblique motives, impropriety, bias and improper motives, particularly in pending proceedings, obstructs the course of justice.
It further held that bonafide criticism must be encouraged but interference with the administration of justice affects the litigants because when confidence of the people is eroded in the courts, it becomes impossible to protect their rights and liberties.
"The news report and the purported affidavit have cast scandalous aspersions on the integrity, independence and impartiality of the court and its judges," says the order of the court.
The court further held that liberty of the press and freedom of speech are of paramount importance but they are not absolute adding that they are subservient to proper administration of justice.
The court further noted that the alleged contemnors have attempted to undermine public confidence in the impartiality and independence of this court and its judges.
"The report published in The News and contents of the purported affidavit, prima-facie, tend to influence the proceedings and determination in a pending matter," the court noted down in its order adding that they have attempted to obstruct the administration of justice.
"They have failed to give a plausible explanation as to why proceedings under the Contempt of Court Ordinance, 2003 should not be initiated against them," the order added.
The court held that this is an opportunity for holding this court accountable adding that the onus is on the alleged contemnors to establish their bonafides by satisfying that the alleged aspersions are not unfounded to the extent of this court and its judges.
"Keeping in view the importance of the questions raised in the petition in hand, it would be appropriate to appoint the Vice Chairman, Pakistan Bar Council, the President, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Faisal Siddiqui, ASC, and Ms Reema Omer as amici curiae for assistance", says the court order.
The court directed that Attorney General for Pakistan or the Advocate General, Islamabad Capital Territory, as the case may be, shall prosecute the alleged contemnors.
News Desk adds: In his remarks, Chief Justice Athar Minallah said there would be turmoil in the society if people do not have faith in the judiciary. "I will take full responsibility if you prove with evidence that a judge of this court took directions. If any of you or Justice Rana Shamim can produce any evidence, this court will not hesitate to take action against the former chief justice."
Former chief judge of the Supreme Appellate Court, Gilgit Baltistan, Rana Muhammad Shamim, was represented by his son, Advocate Ahmad Hassan Rana. The advocate said Rana Shamim could not appear in the court due to sickness. He had returned last night. Attorney General Khalid Javed said the brother of Rana Shamim passed away on Nov 6 and he filed the affidavit in London on Nov 10. The timing of the entire episode, the AG said, is critical. During the hearing, Shamim's lawyer also asked the IHC CJ whether the court would take notice of the statements made by Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda, and added he can produce the video of those remarks. The court refused to include it in the case and told Shamim's lawyer to file a separate appeal.
Addressing The Editor Investigations, The News, Ansar Abbasi, the CJ IHC Justice Athar Minallah said if people lose faith in judiciary it will trigger chaos in the society and the news published in your paper has just done that. Do our judge take directions from some one? This affidavit is not part of any court proceedings. On July 6, 2018, the Avenfield verdict was announced and July 16 former PM Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz filed appeals against their conviction. The CJ said, "I and Justice Amir Farooq were on vacations abroad, while there is no question over the impartiality of Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kiani and Justice Mian Gul Hassan Aurangzeb." The court was scandalized to ruin people's trust in the country's institutions, he observed.
The CJ IHC said if another judge spoke like this in front of him, "I would get in touch with the Supreme Judicial Council." A person witnesses the CJP asking someone to commit a crime. The person stays silent for three years and an affidavit concerning the incident surfaces. How is it possible? This is akin to blocking path of justice, the CJ IHC said.
Ansar Abbasi said, "I did the story of the affidavit by fulfilling all professional requirements. This affidavit was sworn by former Chief Judge of the Supreme Appellate Court, Gilgit Baltistan. I am a journalist and supposed to dispatch a message." Abbasi told the court that he crosschecked about the affidavit from chief judge Rana Shamim. "It is my story. If you want to take action, take it against me and not against the editor and the editor-in-chief who have nothing to do with this. I only did the story to uphold the honour of the court and did not even mention the name of the HC judge. My story is about the charges levelled by former Chief Judge of the Supreme Appellate Court, Gilgit Baltistan, against former CJP Justice Saqib Nisar."
The IHC directed the respondents to satisfy the court. While issuing show cause notices to the respondents including Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and Editor Aamir Ghauri, the CJ IHC sought their response in seven days on Nov 26.
The AG said he has to go abroad and will not appear in the court. At this, the CJ directed him to appoint a representative to plead on his behalf.