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Saturday April 20, 2024

Contempt issues

By Editorial Board
September 01, 2022

Those that were expecting courtroom drama in Imran Khan’s contempt proceedings will have felt a bit underwhelmed on Wednesday as the former prime minister was given seven days to resubmit a response in the Islamabad High Court after his reply to the court’s show-cause notice was deemed unsatisfactory by the IHC. The show-cause notice had been served because the high court had seen Imran’s remarks against Judge Zeba Chaudhry as obstruction of justice. There are not many that would disagree that the tone Imran Khan had used against a female judge of the lower judiciary constituted both threat and intimidation – what to speak of unabashed misogyny. In his original reply to the court, the PTI chairman had offered to withdraw his comments, but had not spelt out an apology per se. The court’s order has now pretty much offered him a way out without further damage: apologize and let’s move on.

The question that may be looming on everyone’s minds is not whether Imran will apologize but whether an apology will work as a deterrent for any future pressure or sloganeering the PTI wishes to indulge in when it comes to the courts and individual judges. While we cannot be sure of whether an apology is coming from the PTI chairman, that may not be much of a hindrance to his politics – as master apologizer, the former prime minister has a history of conveniently apologizing after the fact – criticizing institutions and individuals and then tendering an apology. He has been blessed also with a devout group of supporters who cannot see the glaring contradictions in their leader’s apology politics. The PTI has been consistently saying that the party has not done anything wrong, that the party chairman only criticized a judge who should have taken cognisance of custodial torture. And this form of aggressive politics has worked like a charm for the party. Even after submitting an unconditional apology, Imran can always say he was consistent and adamant but, because the court insisted, he was left with no choice.

PTI leaders have implied that the contempt case too is a political matter, with the PTI’s Fawad Chaudhry going to the extent of citing the examples of Zulfikar Bhutto, Yusuf Raza Gilani and Nawaz Sharif and saying that judicial decisions against them were taken when they had lost their popularity, and that Daniyal Aziz, Talal Chaudhry and Nehal Hashmi are not leaders of Imran Khan’s stature so they cannot be compared. If this is their party position, how is the party not contesting the contempt notice instead of tendering an apology? Jurisprudence on contempt has generally been a mixed bag of confusions. In previous cases, even unconditional apologies did not lead to any leniency. We are, in the meanwhile, left with more questions than answers: is naming a sitting judge with that tone intimidation or not? If a decision by the lower courts is upheld by the high courts, will such statements be taken as merely criticism or are such statements obstruction of justice? Perhaps this would be an opportune time to clarify what comes under the purview of judicial contempt and what comes under criminal contempt. And what of the SC decisions in the cases involving Nehal Hashmi, Daniyal Aziz and Talal Chaudhry? Newer precedents are part of the evolution of law, but they must be across the board so as not to suffer unnecessary controversy regarding the seemingly untouchable nature of one political leader.