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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC), on Thursday, formally framed charges against former chief judge of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) Rana Shamim in a contempt of court case initiated against him after his controversial affidavit.

However, the single bench of Chief Justice Athar Minallah said the indictment against the journalists including Mir Shakilur Rehman, Editor-in-Chief, Aamir Ghouri, Editor, Ansar Abbasi on the request of Attorney General of Pakistan, will be initiated, if during the proceedings it came to the court’s notice that the news was published to influence the case pending before the court.

The bench had started the proceeding against Shamim Rana, former chief judge of the Supreme Appellate Court of Gilgit-Baltistan and others after publication of a news item claiming that Shamim Rana executed an affidavit, in which, he levelled allegations against former Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar.

About the journalists, the IHC bench said in its written order that despite, the reckless conduct of the reporter, the editor, and the editor-in-chief, the Court, at this stage, exercises restraint by not framing the charge against Ansar Abbasi, Aamir Ghauri, and Mir Shakilur Rehman.

It added, “This is without prejudice to initiating proceedings against them, if during the course of proceedings against Rana Mohammad Shamim, some material or evidence surfaces, prima facie, indicating malice or intent on part of the reporter, editor and editor-in-chief to obstruct or interfere with the administration of justice.” It noted that after the perusal of written replies submitted by the alleged contemnors, pursuant to orders, dated 13 December 2021 and 20 December 2021, the proceedings were fixed on 28 December 2021 in order to offer the alleged contemnors an opportunity of a preliminary hearing as required under section 17(3) of the Contempt of Court Ordinance, 2003. The parties were heard at great length as is obvious from the order, dated 28 December 2021.

Contempt of court case: IHC to open sealed envelope during next hearing

The bench further said that after extending extensive opportunity of hearing, the Court was, prima facie, satisfied that the interest of justice required to fix a date for framing of a charge in the open Court. It continued that for framing of charge, presence of the alleged contemnor is required. The charge was read out in the open Court to Shamim.

The latter did not plead guilty and further stated that he would be producing his defence. At this, the court directed to submit his affidavit. The bench stated that the Court has already appointed amici curiae in order to ensure the transparency and fairness of the proceedings and the alleged contemnor, Shamim Rana, shall be at liberty to lead his defence in accordance with his right to have a fair trial.

During the hearing, the attorney general argued that the role of the other alleged contemnors/ journalists, i.e., Abbasi, Ghauri, and Rehman was secondary and he was of the opinion that though they had failed to exercise reasonable care but, at this stage, proceedings under the Ordinance of 2003 are not warranted.

Faisal Siddiqui Advocate, one of the amici curiae, was of the opinion that the reporter, editor, and editor-in-chief were definitely reckless. However, he was of the opinion that a case of contempt is not made out. He suggested that the court may pass an order under Section 18(2) of the Ordinance of 2003 deprecating the reckless conduct of the reporter, editor, and editor-in-chief. Nasir Zaidi, president, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists appeared along with Afzal Butt and several other senior journalists. They stated that the print and electronic media have already facing with enormous challenges. They stated that the “subjudice rule” has seldom been applied by the courts. They candidly conceded that the significance of the “subjudice rule” has been highlighted for the first time during these proceedings.

They further informed that the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and other representative organisations have decided to deliberate and prescribe guidelines for reporting of “subjudice” matters. They acknowledged that reporting and publication of the news item based on the affidavit of Shamim did not meet the standards required to be observed in the context of the “subjudice rule”. They stressed that framing of charge against the reporter, editor and editor-in-chief, in absence of any incriminating material showing malice, malafide or intent to breach the “subjudice rule”, is likely to have profound consequences in the context of Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973.

Justice Minallah stated in his written order that it has already been noted in the order, dated 28 December 2021, that the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and access to information guaranteed under Articles 19 and 19-A respectively are of paramount importance.

The enforcement of all other rights depends on the effective observance of the aforementioned two rights. He added, “A free press and media guarantees and protect the independence of judiciary. But the freedom enjoyed by a reporter, editor and publisher is not absolute. It is subject to respecting other rights, particularly those of the litigants. The “subjudice rule” is the corner stone of a fair trial and an effective administration of justice.”

The IHC chief justice further said that representatives of the journalists, who have appeared today, are justified in stating that there has never been any emphasis on this pivotal fundamental rule or the courts have applied it. It can also not be denied that trial outside the court rooms has remained an unchecked norm since a long time.

Rather than discouraging, trial through media has been encouraged since the “subjudice rule” has seldomly been applied by the courts. The damage caused due to ignoring the “subjudice rule” is definitely irretrievable. While other forms of contempt have been invoked, the breach of “subjudice rule” has definitely remained unchecked. The demonstrably expressed realisation by representatives of journalists and their resolve to set guidelines in the context of the “subjudice rule” is indeed a step forward and must be appreciated,” maintained the judge.

He continued that as already noted, there is no material or evidence to, prima facie, show that the reporting or publishing in the case in hand was motivated or that there was an intent to obstruct or interfere with the administration of justice.

Then the court directed the office to relist the matter on February 15 for further proceedings against Shamim.

In the meantime, the court also turned down an application of Shamim praying that the attorney general may be removed and instead the advocate general, Islamabad Capital Territory be appointed as a prosecutor.

The court said that Shamim was unable to give any plausible explanation for removal of the attorney general as a prosecutor and no legitimate ground has been raised in order to grant the prayer. It ruled that the application is meritless and, therefore, accordingly dismissed.

The IHC bench also dismissed Shamim’s other application, wherein, he prayed that instead of framing of charge, the court should undertake an inquiry.

The court observed that the proceedings after framing of charge and a fair trial will enable him an opportunity to lead his defence. It further said that there cannot be a more effective mode for Shamim to reveal the truth and rebut the presumption that assertions made by him are not true. It further said that the prayer sought in the application is alien to the scheme of the Ordinance of 2003 and the prayer sought is misconceived and meritless.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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