After Supreme Court's decision convicting Nehal Hasmi of a one-month imprisonment for contempt and threats against the court, the Court is now levelling its attention upon Ministers Daniyal Aziz and Talal Chaudhry. Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib has, on separate instances, taken suo motu notice of an "anti-judiciary" speech made by PML-N leader Daniyal Aziz, and against Talal Chaudhry for his speech at Jaranwala.

While court has been very active lately, being active on contempt of court and this recent string of decisions has been questionable. While PML-N leaders have been very critical of the judiciary the past few months, the superior courts and the CJP must be very careful with contempt of court so as not be seen as overusing his executive powers to punish people.

Contempt of court comes under the Contempt of Court Act 2012 which states that contempt of court includes anything “intended to bring the court into disrepute or obstruct the process of law” and that fair comments about a decision, general working of courts and true statements made in good faith do not come under contempt of court. Whereas Nehal Hashmi‘s threat of taking the judges to task certainly came under contempt of court, it crosses into vague territories to determine whether these other PML-N leaders do too. Talal Chaudhry’s comment of “throwing all the judges out” in Jaranwala is akin to a threat, however, in Daniyal Aziz’s case, though he certainly criticized the court in the Parliament, most of the criticism was based on the history of the Panama Papers case. Making a conviction would lead to blurring the lines between contempt and criticism.

Anyhow, even if contempt was committed, the court should be very careful with the huge potential of abuse that contempt of court has with it. The CJP should realise that criticism is inevitable after a controversial decision, and putting several opponents under contempt cuts credibility of the decision. Paired with the fact that Daniyal aziz and Talal Chaudhry are also members of PML-N just gives the party ammunition to claim the SC is biased and certainly raises concerns of overuse.

The judiciary needs to define the ambit of contempt of court as criticism of judgments should be legal while threats and defamation is not. The SC and the CJP is better served using his wide-ranging discretion to tackle more pressing problems.