The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday dismissed a petition seeking contempt of court proceedings against Prime Minister Imran Khan. IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah earlier in the day reserved the verdict after hearing the initial arguments regarding the maintainability of the petition.The petition filed by former inspector general police Saleemullah Khan contended that Imran Khan in his speech on November 18 committed contempt and tried to make the judiciary controversial. The former top cop took the stance that the prime minister ridiculed the judiciary, and therefore the transcript of the prime minister’s speech and recording should be submitted to the court. The plea had further said that contempt of court was clear in the text of the speech. He had appealed to the court to sentence the prime minister under the contempt of court laws. The petition referred to remarks made by the prime minister during a speech he delivered at the inaugural ceremony of Havelian-Mansehra section of the Hazara motorway at Havelian, where he urged Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and senior judge of the Supreme Court Justice Gulzar Ahmed to restore public confidence in the judiciary. The prime minister had said there was a perceived disparity in how the powerful and common people were treated in the country’s judicial system.During the proceedings on Tuesday, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah asked the appellant, “What problem do you have with the prime minister’s speech?” The petitioner responded that the prime minister had ‘ridiculed the judiciary’. “The courts welcome criticism,” said Justice Minallah. Saleemullah said that there was a ‘difference between criticism and contempt’. “Do you want a trial of an elected prime minister?” Justice Minallah asked. “Do you know the outcome of such a move? Do you want the prime minister to be disqualified?” he asked. The hearing was adjourned until later in the day, with the IHC subsequently dismissing the petition. While listing out reasons for rejecting the petition, Justice Minallah wrote in the court’s detailed order that, “Without adverting to the contents of the speech, it is noted that courts do not fear criticism nor are sensitive about it. The courts do not discourage the exercise of general right of criticism made in good faith and which does not obstruct or impair the administration of justice and the right of a litigant to a fair trial.”The court observed that Prime Minister Imran has been elected to the highest executive public office by the Pakistani people and “his role in the 2007 historic lawyers’ movement is indeed acknowledged”. According to the order, the court is satisfied that ‘regardless of the selection of words’, the prime minister could not have intended to undermine the integrity of the administration of justice or the prestige of the courts.The court stressed that the benefit of doubt must always go in favour of the representatives of the people. “Even otherwise utmost restraint ought to be exercised in initiating contempt proceedings against an elected prime minister because of its consequences, which may, inter alia, lead to disfranchising the people of Pakistan and depriving them from the right to choose as to who should represent and govern them,” it added. “This court, therefore, presumes that the worthy prime minister was not properly briefed, which had led to the factually incorrect statements made during his speech,” the order concluded.