Breather for govt in NRO case
ISLAMABAD, Aug 16: In a significant development the Supreme Court granted to the government on Thursday a much-needed break that may help defuse a perceived standoff between the executive and the judiciary.
A five-judge bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa put off for an indefinite period the hearing of a government petition seeking review of the court’s July 12 order which directed the prime minister to comply with its judgment in the NRO implementation case. But the court made it clear that the postponement should not be considered as a stay.
But the Aug 27 date set by the court for Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf to appear before it and answer contempt charges remains unchanged.
At the outset, Attorney General Irfan Qadir informed the court that he had a meeting with the prime minister and Law Minister
Farooq H. Naek on Wednesday night and felt a genuine desire on the part of the government to resolve once for all the controversy (regarding the writing of a letter to Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari).
“We undertook serious deliberations and decided to take into the loop other concerned people who were not available yesterday,” the AG said.
Justice Khosa clarified that in the absence of any commitment the court could not terminate the proceedings at hand. “You (government) can consider withdrawing your review petition if you feel that things are going into different direction,” he said and asked the AG again if he would like not to press the petition.
But before granting the needed time the court clarified that if the person (prime minister) against whom it had issued a notice to come in person and for whom it had great respect due to his office appeared and made a positive statement the court would certainly accommodate him, and if he failed to do so then the law would take its course and perhaps then the AG would become relevant (while acting as a prosecutor in the contempt case against the prime minister). “There will be no problem if he (prime minister) utters two positive words,” the court assured the AG. Since when appearing before the court has become a matter of prestige and lowered one’s dignity, the court asked.
“It is always court’s endeavour to protect the dignity of institutions,” Justice Khosa observed. The court had only issued direction in paragraph 178 of the NRO verdict to revive the status of Pakistan as a damaged civil party in the money-laundering case before the Swiss courts, he recalled.
“We neither add anything nor mention the president or any prosecution,” he said, adding that the court did not want anything
more than what it had written. “We don’t know why this exaggeration is going on.”
The AG again requested the bench to adjourn the matter because he would have to attend an international meeting of prosecutors general on Aug 27 in Russia.
But the court reminded him that the July 12 order (of asking the prime minister to implement the NRO judgment) was an independent matter which had created consequences.
“Please don’t regard the government as not serious; we have good interaction and resolve,” the AG said, adding that the government had great respect for the judiciary and all of its judges. The law minister was also here to show the seriousness of the government, he said.
Law Minister Naek appeared at the rostrum and said he had come to show commitment of the government as it did not want derailment of democracy and any clash between the two important pillars of the state.
“Neither have we wanted to drag on the matter nor to employ delaying tactics,” he said, adding that the problem was that any decision could not be taken by a single individual because “we are a party and a government”.
The minister then requested the court to club all matters together till the first week of September. “Here is a commitment and I am hopeful that it will be good for the entire nation because what matters is the institution,” Mr Naek said.
But the court said the issue regarding the Aug 27 hearing was not fixed before it and, therefore, no adjustment could be made.
The difficulty was, Justice Khosa said, that it was a review bench while the one which would sit on Aug 27 was the NRO
implementation bench. The two matters being different could not be clubbed together.
However, the attorney general requested the court to postpone the hearing for a date in office because he was seriously considering to withdraw the review petition.
Although the court acceded to the request and adjourned the matter, it made it clear that it should not be regarded as a stay in the proceedings and if the prime minister appeared in the contempt case the instant review would become infructous.