Draft of new contempt law: Move to kill two birds with one stone
ISLAMABAD, July 5: The government has tried to kill two birds with one stone with its proposed amendment to the contempt law.
The Contempt of Court Act 2012 which the government intends to get passed in the upcoming session of the two houses of parliament provides blanket immunity to top government functionaries for their executive actions. It can also be used for initiating disciplinary proceedings against a judge, without fearing that the move may come under the ambit of contempt.
The draft law approved by the cabinet on Wednesday, available with Dawn, states: “A true averment made in good faith and temperate language for initiation of action or in the course of disciplinary proceedings against a judge, before the chief justices of the Supreme Court and high courts, the Supreme Judicial Council and the federal or provincial governments, shall not amount to contempt of court.” The new law will also have an overriding effect and if passed by the parliament, the erstwhile Contempt of Court Act 1976 and the contempt of court ordinances 2003 and 2004 will stand repealed.
Unlike the contempt of court ordinances 2003 and 2004 which explained in details about three different types of court contempt — civil, criminal and judicial — focus of the proposed law is on the actions which don’t amount to commission of contempt of court.
Besides protecting powers and performance of holders of public office mentioned in Article 248 of the Constitution, which include the president, prime minister, governors, chief ministers, federal and state ministers, the proposed contempt of court act 2012 also shields ‘any authority’ against the contempt charges. One of its clauses read as “remarks made in an administrative capacity by any authority in the course of official business, including those in connection with a disciplinary inquiry or in an inspection note or a character roll or confidential” shall not amount to contempt of court.
“If passed, the law which only needs a simple majority in both the houses of parliament of members present at the time of its presentation, may also prove to be a blessing in disguise for former law minister Senator Babar Awan and property tycoon Malik Riaz who are currently facing contempt charges,” said a legal expert.
Under the proposed law, if an accused or convict of contempt of court files an appeal, his/her show-cause notice or original order will remain suspended till final disposal of the matter. It said: “An accused person may also at any stage submit an apology and the court, if satisfied, may discharge him or remit his sentence.”
Political and legal experts are of the opinion that the proposed law will encourage discussions not only on court judgments but also under-hearing court cases, both at public and private levels.
Justice (retd) Wajhiuddin Ahmad, Supreme Court lawyers Salman Akram Raja and Babar Sattar and veteran politician and legal expert S.M. Zafar have rejected the proposed law, saying the only intention behind the move appeared to undermine the superior judiciary.
Contempt of court will not apply if: A public officer holder exercises power for which he enjoys constitutional immunity under Article 248(1) of the constitution; a request in good faith and in temperate language before the chief justice of the Supreme Court or the high court or the Supreme Judicial Council, the federal or provincial governments for initiating disciplinary action against a judge; fair comments in good faith and in temperate language about general workings of the courts; fair comments on a court decision but again in temperate language; unless forbidden by a court, fair and accurate reporting of any judicial proceedings; publication of any material even if amounts to contempt on a sub-judice matter (pending before court) by a person who had no information regarding pendency of such matter on which he is commenting before the court; similarly distribution of such material by a person who had no information regarding pendency of such matter before a court of law; a plea of truth taken as a defence in the contempt proceedings; any remarks by an authority in an administrative capacity in connection with a disciplinary inquiry or in an inspection note or a character roll or a confidential report; and a true statement in good faith on a matter not connected with the judicial functions of a judge.