Enforcement of contempt of court

In recent past after the decision on Panama Leaks in which former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was disqualified, some of the top leaders of PML N were openly criticizing, accusing and scandalizing the courts when the case was being heard in the Supreme Court thus added new bad chapter in the history of Pakistan.

Such behavior was not witnessed during even leader like Bhutto’s trial in the High Court and Supreme Court. PML N leaders crossed all the limits of decency and were very hostile against judiciary and later on added establishment (Army) so frequently that people started talking as to why judiciary is silent and not taking any action. But the fact remains that our judiciary has shown great restraint and has been magnanimous not to take action even in the extreme provocation by certain leaders not tolerated anywhere in the world.
There is always a limit that one should never cross. Freedom of speech is alright but it binds you to be within the norms of decency but in case of some of the PML N leaders thought as if they were above the country laws and continued their bashing without any fear of law and accountability.. One such case is of Nihal Hashmi who was wild in criticizing the judges but when charged under contempt of court was very apologetic but he could not escape the minor punishment which was again considered very mild. Likewise Talal Chaudhry and Danial Aziz have been rather very harsh. Danial Aziz has been disqualified for five years but Talal’s case is about to be decided and he may also not escape punishment. But such punishments are not deterrent as these delayed punishments kill the spirit of Contempt of Court. There is definite need to revisit the Contempt of Court application. Although Article 204 is very clear and there is no ambiguity and anyone who violates can be punished within very short period. This has been made a rocket science. The Article is very much clear because someone should read clause 3 which says that “Fair comment made in good faith and in the public interest on the working of the court or any of its final decisions after the expiry of the period of limitation for appeal, if any shall not constitute contempt of the court.” How on earth we allow such flagrant violations of rules that too in the Supreme Court.
Let us first examine what is Contempt of Court. Article 204 deals with Contempt of Court. In this Article, “Court” means the Supreme Court or High Court. (2) A Court shall have power to punish any person who,- (a) abuses, interferes with or obstructs the process of the Court in any way or disobeys any order of the Court; (b) scandalizes the Court or otherwise does anything which tends to bring the Court or a Judge of the Court into hatred, ridicule or contempt; (c) does anything which tends to prejudice the determination of a matter pending before the Court; or (d) does any other thing which, by law, constitutes contempt of the Court.
(3) The exercise of the power conferred on a Court by this Article may be regulated by law and, subject to law, by rules made by the Court.]Under explanation it is clearly mentioned that Fair comment made in good faith and in the public interest on the working of the Court or any of its final decisions after the expiry of the period of limitation for appeal, if any, shall not constitute contempt of the Court. While the case is being heard no one has the right to make any comment whatsoever, it can be debated after the decision has been announced.
Contempt of court is an act of disrespect or disobedience towards a court’s officers, or interference with its orderly process. Contempt of court has four essential elements under Title 18 of the United States Code – misbehavior of a person; in or near to the presence of the court; which obstructs the administration of justice; and is committed with the required degree of criminal intent. Judges have wide latitude in deciding whom to hold in contempt of court, as well as the type of contempt. An act of disrespect, disobedience, defiance, or interference by any of the parties involved in a legal proceeding – from witnesses and defendants, to jurors and lawyers – can be considered as contempt of court.
When any act which attracts provision of contempt of court and is documented, fully authenticated it should be decided without delay. Take the case of our leaders who are charged with the Contempt of Court cases. Once they commit the contempt of court it is recorded by the media. He should be called and his speech played and punishment awarded on the spot because he cannot deny what he has uttered wildly against the judiciary. Why he is allowed to engage a lawyer and waste time of the court. The apex court in the larger interest for the respect of most prestigious institution of the country has to punish just one person and after that no one would dare even think of talking about even lower courts. In the words of Meles Zenawi( The late Ethopian PM) ” The rule of law is the basis of any democracy. And without the rule of law in democracy, you have chaos”. That is what is happening in Pakistan

The writer is a freelance journalist and defence Analyst.

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