Sub judice!?

Without meaning to interfere in the workings of the SC, one would like to recall here that the UK had abolished “scandalising the judiciary” as a form of contempt of court in 2013. The offence was described as archaic, unnecessary and infringement of freedom of expression

Considering the way Nawaz Sharif is fighting his case in what he calls the peoples’ court, it is becoming increasingly difficult to write him off from the country’s political arena for good. On the other hand, it is becoming equally difficult not to minus him from all future political reckonings in the country considering the way the Supreme Court, especially Chief Justice Saqib Nisar is conducting the contest in his Court with his ‘Suo Motu’ powers, a deadly public interest judicial weapon to be used advisedly only sparingly, if at all.

That Nawaz owns assets beyond his known means was too glaring to have escaped being noticed by our law enforcement agencies, especially the National Accountability Bureau. Conveniently, everybody and his auntie became aware of the serious financial fraud allegedly committed by the elected chief executive of the country only after the revelations made by the Panama Papers published in April, 2016.

Nevertheless, the past performance of the body that is sitting on his judgment has been known to be too wanting for the public at large not to feel extremely uncomfortable.

The fact that Nawaz has kept himself relevant and that too almost at the centre of country’s politics since July 26, 2017 when he was disqualified by a five member Supreme Court bench, on the face of it, seems like a miracle.

Indeed, going by the experience of similar developments in the past even the most well-heeled political analysts had expected defections to send the PMLN in a tailspin immediately following the disqualification of the Party chief who was also the country’s elected Prime Minister.

The most well-heeled political analysts had expected defections to send the PMLN into a tailspin

In the opinion of these analysts, by now the PMLN should have either withered away or should have given birth to a new PML carrying a different alphabet to set it apart from the ‘mother’ Party.

But this did not happen. Not only has Nawaz succeeded in keeping the Party intact so far but with the passage of each day he is making the PMLN ever more relevant to the country’s politics. Prima facie, this success can be credited to the vigorous campaigning Nawaz had launched immediately after stepping down from the office of the PM.

His GT road march, his daughter Maryam Nawaz’s mobilisation of Party workers during the by-elections in NA 120, a seat vacated by Nawaz and contested by his wife Kulsoom Nawaz which she won by a good margin and the continuous barnstorming through Pakistan’s selected political centres that Nawaz has been conducting all these months presenting himself as a victim of a conspiracy — he does not say hatched by whom, but implies it to be the establishment, a generic name for civil-military bureaucracy that also includes judiciary — seem to have kept him politically alive in the media headlines on daily basis. He has been clearly plying victimhood to the hilt.

However, all this would have come to nothing had Nawaz lost the government as well along with his office and the national assembly seat. In fact no amount of political mobilisation by Nawaz would have kept the PMLN intact had the Party’s government too had been ousted along with its PM.

Interestingly, while his handpicked Prime Minister is running the day-to-day affairs of the government without any slip-ups of consequence, Nawaz is doing what an opposition leader does in election season — vociferously criticizing the establishment and making it very clear who the real boss is in Pakistan’s political hierarchy and how this apparently intangible entity is working overtime to derail democracy.

He is using this equation of being in the government as well as in the opposition to his maximum political advantage. On occasions his onslaughts seem to have hit the bull’s eye causing despair among the target audience.

All through the hearing of his case in the Supreme Court, first by the five-member bench and then by a three-member one followed by investigation of Nawaz family’s assets in the country and outside by the SC appointed Joint Investigation Team (JIT) the public support by and large had appeared to be on the side of the judiciary. One did feel that the verdict when it came had popular backing.

But since then things had begun to go into reverse gear first rather slowly and then by the end of 2017 a clear tilt had started appearing fast in favour of Nawaz as he began attracting mammoth crowds to his public outings wherever he deemed it appropriate to organise a political meeting.

Meanwhile, the superior judiciary also seems to have started regaining back public support as the Chief Justice was seen using his Sou Motu powers to set right a number of public interest goings-on of bad governance that he thought needed his urgent attention. At the last count CJ Saqib Nisar had used his Sou Motu powers 25 times in the 14 months since he assumed the coveted office.

This includes three contempt of court notices as well of which one against Nihal Hashmi has already been decided with the Senator being disqualified and jailed for a month and fined Rs 50,000.The other two on the contempt of court list are Talal Chaudhry and Daniyal Aziz.

Without meaning to interfere in the workings of the SC, one would like to recall here that the UK had abolished ‘scandalising the judiciary’ as a form of contempt of court in 2013. The offence was described as archaic, unnecessary and infringement of freedom of expression.

Lord Denning is quoted to have said that the judiciary would never use (contempt of court) jurisdiction ‘as a means to uphold our own dignity. That must rest on surer foundations. Nor will we use it to suppress those who speak against us. We do not fear criticism, nor do we resent it.’

Justice Black, US Supreme Court (1941) has been quoted to have said that an enforced silence, however limited, solely in the name of preserving the dignity of the Bench, ‘would probably engender resentment, suspicion and contempt, much more than it would enhance respect.’

The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad. He served as the Executive Editor of Express Tribune until 2014

Published in Daily Times, February 8th 2018.