ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court Thursday said it will stop contempt proceeding against Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani right away even if he gives commitment to write to Swiss authorities now.

A seven-member bench is hearing contempt of court case against the premier for his continual refusal to implement an SC order requiring him to write letter to the Swiss for revival of money laundering cases against NRO beneficiaries including President Ali Zardari. Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry told Gilani’s counsel: “Even if today the PM writes letter to Swiss authorities, they will stop contempt proceeding against him.”

Aitzaz argued that the PM last year was directly ordered to implement the court judgment in NRO case, while earlier the court had issued directions to the federal govt and the federal govt – means the minister and particularly the secretaries. Justice Sarmad Jalal Osmany said the prime minister was in knowledge of the court order on implementing December 16, 2009 judgment, adding the criminal trial before the bench is the offshoot of non-compliance of the apex court order.

Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa said the court never wanted to go to this extent; therefore, it first ordered the government to submit the summaries and then issued warnings. Besides that, when nothing happened they gave six options, which were still open. Aitzaz said those were coercive measures. Justice Asif Khosa said ‘if other options are coercive then contempt option could be adopted’. Aitzaz objecting to that said the court can’t do that. Justice Osmany stated, “You leave that up to the court.”

Justice Khosa said the PM represents 180 million people of Pakistan and there were lot of responsibilities on his shoulders, while the judges were answerable to God. Aitzaz said the burden on judges’ shoulders was of constitution and they have to act in accordance with the law. Justice Sarmad said obeying to law was the responsibility of everyone and not the judges alone.

Arguing immunity to head of state under international law, Aitzaz said: “From the day one I never discussed presidential immunity under article 248 of the constitution but it was wrongly attributing to me.” Justice Khosa in a light vein said for the last one year the whole country was discussing article 248, but ‘you say you don’t like to debate it in the court’. The court asked Aitzaz to conclude his argument today (Friday).

At the outset of the hearing, Aitzaz presented United Nations’ report titled “Preliminary report on immunity of State officials from foreign criminal jurisdiction” to support his argument on presidential immunity.

Without seeking constitutional immunity, Aitzaz Ahsan concluded his arguments on international immunity for president. Aitzaz insisted that the president has immunity in both civil and criminal cases. On this Justice Sarmad Jalal Osmany said there is no bar on writing the letter.

Aitzaz cited international laws of presidential immunity. He cited one incident wherein Belgium had issued arrest warrants for Congo’s foreign minister and the government of Congo had refused to present him before the Belgian magistrate.

Ahsan said that not only the president, but the foreign minister also enjoyed immunity. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa observed that once an international magistrate had summoned the Sudanese president and issued arrest warrants for him. In his defence, Ahsan said that this was an exception and in cases of war crimes, presidents can be summoned by International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Justice Nasirul Mulk observed that ambassadors get immunity for representing the president and the state but under some specific charges ambassadors or president could be tried. Ahsan said a French court summoned Djibouti’s president as witness but the international court granted immunity to him. He contended that besides United Nations, International Court of Justice has also acknowledged this provision. “Heads of Congo and Djibouti were also provided immunity due to this reason and Libya’s Moammer Gaddafi was given exception in a lawsuit in France.”

Aitzaz also cited Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961, and Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963, besides State Immunity Ordinance (vi) of 1981. He said a head of state enjoyed absolute immunity under the international laws under jurisdiction from all domestic courts all over the world in all civil and criminal matters. The hearing was adjourned until Friday.