Aamir Liaquat’s flirtations with the Supreme Court (SC) continue as the televangelist, and now lawmaker, has been given yet another reprieve in yet another contempt case. Having placed himself at the “mercy of the court”, Mr Liaquat can call himself lucky that the Chief Justice Saqib Nisar found it within his heart to accept his “unconditional apology”.

Not everyone can claim that they’ve come out of the Chief Justice’s apex court unscathed; the SC has been an ardent prosecutor of contempt of court and other misdemeanors arising from the criticism and defiance of the judiciary. It has presented itself as strict enforcer of these discretionary rules and many politicians now find themselves in hot water over their offensive words.

Despite this uncompromising trend, the recent – and inexplicably lenient – judgment of the SC has thrown the ambit of ‘contempt of court’ wide open again, and brought back questions about the much touted ‘rule of law’.

A mere month ago another bench of the SC rejected Aamir Liaquat’s apology and had declared that his statements had “obstructed, interfered and prejudiced the process of law and due course of proceedings of this court”, while his actions were termed “tantamount to disobeying, disregarding and flouting the orders of the Supreme Court”.

Despite such a damning indictment – by the apex court itself no less – the Chief Justice has seen fit to simply accept his unconditional apology. What constitutes contempt? When is it severe enough to merit an apology? When is it so severe that even an apology will not work? These are questions that the nation is left to ponder on its own.

More and more it seems that the practice of sternly admonishing and then capriciously forgiving is replacing the legal standard of crime, proof and punishment. The certainty that a specific act would result in a defined punishment is the cornerstone of any legal system – it is what compels us to act according to the law.

Unfortunately, such whimsical behavior by the court is undermining this core tenant.