ISLAMABAD - Trampling the ineffective opposition that came in the way, the PPP-led ruling government Wednesday comfortably got passed from the senate the contempt of court bill – primarily to save its new prime minister from meeting the fate of his predecessor.

The Contempt of Court Bill, 2012, which would diminish Supreme Court’s contempt of court powers and allow the lawmakers and public officials to criticise and even bash the judges with impunity, has already been passed by the national assembly and it would now be sent to the president for his final assent to make it a law.

It was passed just a night before Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was due to tell if his administration will write to the Swiss for reopening graft cases against President Zardari. Over the same question, the former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was convicted and eventually disqualified.

The government hinted Wednesday it would try to buy more time to reply on the matter of implementation of SC’s verdict in the NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance), a Musharraf-era immunity law that had been shielding President Zardari as well as others against prosecution but was stricken down by the court. However, the hurry shown in passing this bill shows the PPP doesn’t want to take any chance and has decided to take on the apex court by the horns.

As the bill was presented in the senate, the PML-N and other opposition parties walked out in protest while it also faced resistance from two of PPP’s own legal minds – Main Raza Rabbani and Aitzaz Ahsan – who said that some sections of the bill were ultra vires and the legislation was being passed in a hurry. They feared that the Supreme Court might strike down the law.

PML-Q senior lawmaker Mushaihd Hussain Syed also opposed the bill, saying the laws passed under the doctrine of necessary are short-lived. He said that the legislation was ‘person-specific’ and being passed in a hurry. However, the government faced no difficulty in the passage of the bill as it had the required majority.

Before voting and walkout of the opposition, the house had a lengthy debate on the bill. Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Ishaq Dar said that it was the worst day because the government was passing pushing such legislation and was bent on disgracing the parliament to achieve its own objectives. He said that the article 204 would become redundant vis-à-vis article 248 (1) with the passage of this bill.

Aitzaz Ahsan said the dignity of the courts rested on their judgments and not on the law of contempt of court. He said the draft contained contradictions, adding that any laws made in a hurry always proved fatal for the governments and the apex court would declare it null and void. He said though it was a good law to balance the powers of judiciary and the government but the sections 3 (1) and section 11 (3) of this bill were objectionable and ultra vires and the law minister should review these.

Rabbani said that contempt of court law was necessary in a country like Pakistan where the enforcement of judgments was done not out of respect for rule of law but due to fear of contempt charges and punishment. He said that by giving immunity to the executive from contempt of court, the executive would become unbridled. He said that when they would sit in the opposition, such laws would create difficulties for them as well. “Judicial and political restraints should be observed to avoid confrontation between the state institutions.“

ANP’s Haji Adeel Ahmed supported the bill and criticised the judiciary for, what he said, controversial decisions in the past. He said the parliament was supreme as it was the creator of constitution. He said they accepted all the controversial decisions of the judiciary half heartedly and even the 19 amendment was passed under coercion of the SC orders.

Another lawmaker of his party, Azam Khan Hoti sought ruling from the chair to clarify which organ of the state was supreme and whether any parliamentarian had immunity. He criticised the judiciary for its denial to become accountable before the parliament.

Senator Farhatullah Babar, replying the queries of the opposition, said that there was necessity of the contempt of court law in the given circumstance but presently there was no contempt of court law in the country. He said the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2004 had lapsed as it was not given legal cover under the 17th amendment. He said that an elected PM was sent home on the basis of contempt of court law.

Earlier, the opposition benches opposed the motion moved by Law Minister Farooq H Naek to suspend the rules of business to introduce the bill. The opposition claimed that there was neither emergency nor inconsistency and a two-day notice (under the rules) should be given to introduce the bill. However, the house adopted the motion with the majority of vote and later passed the bill.

Earlier in the day, briefing the media after a cabinet meeting, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said that Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf directed the law minister to brief the cabinet on NRO case at the earliest so they could tell the SC if they would write to Swiss authorities.

Kaira said the prime minister apprised his cabinet that he had received a letter from the supreme court registrar, in which he has sought information about progress on implementation of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). He said the PM forwarded the letter to the law minister, asking him to arrange a briefing on the issue at the earliest and telling him that even a special cabinet meeting can be convened for it, if necessary, since it was a very sensitive issue and the court has already disqualified a PM over it.

The information minister said that the letter was received by the law ministry on Monday and the minister, who saw it on Tuesday, said he has taken the charge of the ministry recently so he needs some time to get background information about the whole matter. It was quite clear from Kaira’s briefing that they intend to buy time from the court on this pretext.