ISLAMABAD – Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani during the hearing of contempt case on Wednesday got an excellent ‘character certificate’ from Nargis Sethi, to the displeasure of the court.

In the last hearing, the seven-member bench headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk had allowed Aitzaz Ahsan, counsel for the prime minister, to present former cabinet and defence ministry secretary Nargis Sethi as the defence witness, but rejected the request to summon former law minister Dr Babar Awan, and law secretary Masood Chishti.

Ms Nargis, who remained principal secretary to PM from December 15, 2008 to January 17, 2011, spoke high of Gilani while recording her statement. When Aitzaz asked Nargis how she would describe the prime minister during her working with him as principle secretary, she said though she had worked with many bosses but found Mr Gilani very soft spoken, smiling, and one who believes in reconciliation and has great respect for the judiciary. Upon this, Justice Asif Khosa remarked: “What do you (Aitzaz) want to drive out of these questions and whether there was any need for your client to have a character certificate from his (former) secretary?”

Besides recording her statement, Nargis Sethi submitted before the bench two summaries  dated May 21 and September 21, 2010  sent by law ministry to prime minister regarding reopening cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. The summaries contained advice/consultation to the PM urging him not to write letter to the Swiss authorities. According to Aitzaz, the prime minister was bound to follow the legal opinion of the law ministry.

Aitzaz Ahsan also presented 18 documents containing opinion of former law secretary Aqeel Mirza, statement of ex-attorney general Anwar Mansoor, the correspondence made with the Swiss authorities in 1997 by Saifur Rehman and the then attorney general, Supreme Court orders and the PM order to the then AGP apex court judgment.

Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq, who is prosecutor in the case, raised objection on the contents of the documents. He said there was no problem in submission of documents by PM’s counsel “but the correctness of these could (only) be approved from the persons who have authored them”. Aitzaz said the purpose of submitting the documents was to show that such material was produced before his client. The counsel said he would take up the objections at the time of his final submission.

The PM’s counsel put over 30 questions to Nargis Sethi. The bench showed reservations on most of the questions for being irrelevant and observed that the defence lawyer cannot cross-examine a defence witness. Justice Ijaz Chaudhry remarked: “You can’t cross-examine your own witness.”

The court however on his insistence allowed Aitzaz to ask questions from the defence witness as he maintained that those queries were in fact ‘leading questions’ and that he was not cross-examining Ms Nargis Sethi. But during the proceedings many times he himself said, “Let me cross-examine Ms Nargis, the witness.”

Mr Aitzaz asked questions that included: “What kind of departments the prime minister deals with on daily basis. What is the relationship of parliament with the PM? How many members are there in the parliament? How many sessions of the parliament the PM attended? What kind of government Mr Yousaf Raza Gilani is heading? How many parliamentarians meet the PM on daily basis? How many foreign tours the PM did during your tenure as the principle secretary? How many meetings of the cabinet, Defence Coordination Committee (DCC) and Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) he participated in and does the prime minister heads those meetings and what was normal duration of the meetings.”

Justice Asif Saeed Khosa asked the learned counsel what he wanted to drive out of these questions. Justice Sarmad Osmany remarked: “Do you want to prove that the prime minister is very upright person and work very hard.” He further questioned: “Does the PM genuinely showed respect to the judiciary?” Justice Ijaz remarked there are many orders of the apex court which have not been implemented yet.

Nargis Sethi approved the correctness of the summaries, PM orders and signatures of the law minister and secretary, and the opinion sent by the law ministry to PM. Answering various questions, she stated that the prime minister looks after the affairs of the whole country which also cover the federation relations with the provinces. She answered in affirmative to the questions, “Did you correctly record the directives of the prime minister under your signature and were you aware that the then law minister Babar Awan was the senior advocate of the Supreme Court?”

Mr Aitzaz further asked that how many files, orders and opinions the PM has to deal with on daily basis. Nargis replied that 1,000 formal files in a month; besides that the PM also handles countless informal orders and files. Aitzaz asked from the former principal secretary to PM that were she aware that Gilani was sentenced for 10 years in imprisonment along with Rs100 million fine and he served five years in the jail. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa remarked: “(There was) no need for these questions as we (all) are also aware of it.”

Aitzaz maintained there was a purpose of these questions. He also questioned Nargis whether it was in her knowledge that conviction in that case was set aside in the appeal and the PM was honourably acquitted and did the PM show any bitterness to the judge who had sentenced him. Ms Sethi’s reply was ‘No’. Did he ever utter derogatory words against the judiciary? Aitzaz further asked and she again replied in negative.

Justice Asif Khosa remarked whether it was required for his client to have a ‘character certificate’ from a principle secretary. Aitzaz said it was relevant. Upon that Justice Khosa expressed his displeasure saying: “You allow the secretaries to write character certificates for prime ministers and ministers.” The hearing was adjourned till Thursday.