KARACHI: Explaining what Thursday’s IHC order could mean for the PTI chairman and what options he has at the moment, most legal experts are of the view that if he wishes to avoid conviction, Imran needs to apologise unconditionally as soon as possible.
Advocate of the Supreme Court Salman Raja says: “The only option [Imran Khan] has is to apologise. They will frame charges, the evidence will start, it will lead to conviction if he doesn’t apologise and if they don’t accept the apology. So the longer you delay the apology, especially after the framing of charges, it becomes harder for it to be accepted. This is already too late. The apology should have come on the first day. They had given him another opportunity, so it should have come today. But he’s just not apologising and they’re clearly very unhappy about it. So this is clearly heading towards conviction, which leads to disqualification unless he somehow manages to procure acceptance of an apology.”
However, Supreme Court lawyer Faisal Chaudhry says that: “Accepting [Imran’s] response would have added to the dignity of the court; the courts are expected to be magnanimous. This is not a one-off case. Before Imran Khan, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto also faced contempt cases. While obviously the final discretion lies with the court, as an officer of the court I feel that Imran’s response was quite reasonable keeping in mind the circumstances.”
For lawyer Abdul Moiz Jaferi: “Imran Khan has successfully antagonised a court which has done him and all before it naught but justice ... a court which was doing little other than standing up for the honour of a subordinate judge, for if it had not, confidence within and without the judiciary would have completely eroded. All that was asked for was an unconditional apology and a surrender to the court. We have now seen Imran Khan doing everything but apologise. He has given excuses, which close the window of apology being afforded to a contemnor. Yet he got a week to fix his reply. And then again today he was justifying himself instead of writing out a five-line apology his ego would not allow. This is perhaps strategic, as Imran has seen success when being absolutely aggressive and unrelenting against other un-elected power players. But it is unnecessary. The court has seen itself embarrassed by Imran refusing to see that all it wants to do is to forgive him”.
High Court advocate Abuzar Salman Khan Niazi reiterates that: “Imran Khan should have tendered an unconditional apology right on the first day of the case”, recalling that this was also articulated by Justice Miangul Aurangzeb on the first day of the contempt case. Niazi says that had he been Imran’s lawyer or part of his legal team, in the first place, he would not have “let him give such remarks in this manner about Judge Zeba Chaudhry and in the second, I would have had him apologise. The court has no ego; it would have accepted the apology.”
On what can possibly happen now that the IHC has spoken, and whether there is still time for Imran Khan to apologise, Salman Raja says: “It is rare to accept an apology after the framing of charges so [Imran] should apologise before the charges are framed. He needs to show contrition, withdraw the replies already filed, unconditionally apologise and ask for the charges to not be filed.” Faisal Chaudhry thinks that “Under the law, an apology can be tendered at any point; the court mostly considers it because in the modern world, the contempt law has become obsolete.”
Chaudhry also lays out a series of legal options Imran Khan can use: “Legally speaking, there are many options Imran and his legal team can use: there are certain lacunas; suo-motu powers have been used; double jeopardy; right of appeal to the SC. So these can be used. Also indictment is not conviction. After an indictment, the court will have to ensure a fair trial. Imran can then explain himself, give evidence to support his case, and maybe the notice can be discharged.”
Journalist and lawyer Muneeb Farooq feels that the judges are not just looking for an apology. “They want Imran to realise what he has done. Imran has been trying to give one justification after the other. This is the second response he has submitted to the court; the first the court didn’t accept and then he gave this one which was everything short of an apology. As a lawyer, I feel it’s not the apology the court is looking for but more the attitude Imran has. If we look at precedents regarding contempt in Pakistan, one thing is clear: the courts have been very particular about the conduct of the alleged contemnor. If the contemnor shows remorse, even without an apology, then the courts have shown leniency. [Imran] can tender an unconditional apology even during trial but [accepting] it is at the discretion of the court.”
Muneeb Farooq adds a word of caution for Imran Khan: “Usually the courts tend not to favour an apology if it comes at the fag end of the case. Imran will need to now think and his lawyers have to think ...they need to tender an apology. And I know for a fact this is not [on] the lawyers but on Imran and the people he’s always huddled with who give him the idea that he is a popular leader”.
On Imran’s legal team, Abuzar Salman Khan Niazi says: “I don’t know who is advising Imran legally. These are not advisers, they are his enemies. He is getting bad advice. Imran can tender an unconditional apology even now; the court is magnanimous, so I feel the case can be resolved even then.”
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