Friday June 02, 2023

PECA ordinance undermines judicial independence, IHC told

March 15, 2022
PECA ordinance undermines judicial independence, IHC told

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday adjourned hearing till March 21, after the petitioners’ lawyers concluded arguments in pleas challenging the PECA (amendment) Ordinance.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah heard the cases filed by Pakistan Federal Union of Journalist (PFUJ), Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) and others. At the outset of hearing, petitioners’ lawyer Munir A Malik argued that ordinance could be issued only in emergency situation under Article 89 of the Constitution.

He said Article 144-A of PECA undermined the independence of the judiciary and the judges. He said, “The amendment to PECA makes it incumbent upon courts to conclude trials within six months and furnish monthly progress reports of pending trials, and orders federal and provincial officials to remove any obstacles that may hinder the progress of the proceedings.”

The issuance of an ordinance was the power of executive but it was conditional with the court’s review. The session of the National Assembly was summoned on February 18, but it was rescheduled for issuance of the ordinance. The powers of Pemra had been shifted to FIA under the ordinance, he added, saying that this law had been enforced to control criticism on media.

PFUJ’s counsel Usman Warraich said that his client had submitted written arguments. He said that this law would have an effect on freedom of expression in society. The FIA, he said, had been misusing its powers under PECA, adding that a society could not flourish without freedom of expression.

He said that this law would safeguard only public officer holders from criticism. He prayed to the court to strike down the PECA ordinance and declare it against the constitution.

Lahore High Court Bar Association President Maqsood Buttar’s counsel said that FIA had no powers to view the conflict between two persons.

The chief justice asked the petitioner to give arguments regarding the legality of the ordinance. The lawyer said that 16 countries of the world had decriminalised the cases. The court remarked that any public office holder should have no concern with defamation.

Farhatullah Baber’s lawyer Usama Khawar contended that Article 19 related to the freedom of expression, but it restricts from disrespecting Islam, national interest, independence, contempt of court or provoking anybody for a crime.

He said that after the fourth amendment to constitution in 1975 there was no further space for criminal defamation in Article 19. The lawyer pleaded that section 20 was also contradicting with the decisions of the top court.

He said that the ordinance was just an executive action and there were 20,000 pending cases with FIA. What the strategy would be to view these complaints, he argued.

After listening to the arguments from petitioners’ lawyers, the court adjourned the case till March 21. The attorney general for Pakistan would give his arguments on next date of hearing.