SC sets strict guidelines for media: Restrictions on entry to courts -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

SC sets strict guidelines for media: Restrictions on entry to courts

ISLAMABAD, May 9: Having experienced noisy scenes in each hearing of the case of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry over the past weeks, the Supreme Court on Wednesday imposed a series of restrictions on entry to the court house and cautioned the media against scandalising or maligning judges of the apex court.

The warnings came at a time when a series of mysterious advertisements has started appearing on the front pages of some newspapers pertaining to the prevailing judicial crisis, its fallout and future political set-up in the country.

Observers recall that inexplicable advertisements against political governments had appeared in the past from anonymous sources and were considered a sign of change, but it is for the first time that such nameless caveat have appeared against the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

The first advertisement of the series appeared on May 6 and was issued by unidentified “impartial lawyers”. The advertisement was apparently addressed to Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. It touched sensitive aspects of the chief justice as a human being who could not be unthankful, if restored as the chief justice, to different political leaders presently supporting him.

It raised questions as to how he would do justice with the people if lawyers supporting him and the government appeared before him on his return to the office of the chief adjudicator. The advertisement asks the chief justice “to restore” the high image of not only the chief justice but also the confidence of his brother judges.

Another advertisement, which appeared on May 9, talks about a proposed deal between the government and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Addressed to the general public, an unknown “Judiciary Defence Committee” gives an impression that the chief justice is being used to finalise this deal and claims that Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, Munir A. Malik, Rashid A. Rizvi and Hamid Ali Khan are associated with the Pakistan People’s Party.

The advertisement asks the people to decide if they want a deal to strengthen Pakistan or bring Benazir Bhutto to power.

The Supreme Court warning also comes at a time when scandalous aspersions are being cast on judges by some elements and petitions targeting the Acting Chief Justice or judges are being filed in the Supreme Court.

The apex court, in a series of handouts, strictly prohibited discussions, comments or write-ups amounting to interference in the legal process or aimed at ridiculing, scandalising, maligning the court or any of its judges, members of the Supreme Judicial Council and touching on merits of the cases pending before the judicial council or the Supreme Court. Any violation will be considered contempt of the court.

“Ever since the filing of the presidential reference against Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and constitutional petitions on the subject, a mala fide campaign of making judges of the Supreme Court and SJC members controversial is going on, both in electronic as well as print media,” the apex court regretted.

Citing examples, the apex court declared as frivolous, baseless and mischievous a news item stating that the wife of Supreme Court judge Justice Raja Fayyaz Ahmed is a relative of the wife of the chief justice.

Referring to a controversy about lunch, it explained that two judges were having lunch in the Islamabad Club and Sharifuddin Pirzada and Attorney General Makhdoom Ali Khan happened to be around and joined the judges on lunch. Describing it as a mere coincidence, it said insinuation by the media was unfounded.

Some elements also tried to cast aspersions on the person of Mr Justice Javed Buttar with reference to his sister’s participation in the protests. “Every person is responsible for his own conduct and behaviour and it is abhorrable to scandalise the judge of the Supreme Court on account of other’s behaviour or conduct,” the handout said.

Likewise, electronic channels aired sensational reports aimed at scandalising and maligning judges of the apex court that falls within the ambit of contempt of the court.

“The Supreme Court judges and SJC members are committed to upholding and maintaining independence of judiciary and their personal links or relations are never a consideration that has any bearing on the performance of their constitutional functions. They have always acted independently and will continue to do so,” the handout explained.

Guidelines were issued for members of the bar, media personnel and litigant public visiting the Supreme Court on each date of hearing of the constitutional petitions by a 14-member full court.

According to the guidelines, entry to the court house would only be allowed to advocates of the Supreme Court/Advocates-on-Record whose cases are fixed for hearing before any bench or the litigants on proof of identity.

Advocates of the Supreme Court and Advocates-on-Record will be allowed to the Bar Room and court offices on official business only.

Similarly, judges’ gates of the Supreme Court, high courts and civil and the district courts are the exclusive entry points for judges of the concerned courts and are never open to lawyers or members of the general public.

The maintenance of the dignity and sanctity of courts is, therefore, the legal and moral duty of members of the legal fraternity and they should not enter the apex court through the judges’ gate. A ban has also been imposed on everybody on raising slogans within the Supreme Court premises or at the judges’ entry gate.

Entry of members of the media to the courtrooms will be regulated through entry passes issued by the Supreme Court Registrar.

Source: Dawn
Date:5/10/2007