LHC dismisses Punjab govt appeal

LAHORE –  The Lahore High Court on Tuesday dismissed the Punjab government’s appeal against the decision of a single bench regarding publication of Model Town inquiry report, directing the authorities to furnish it to the victim families and publish it within 30 days.

A full bench, headed by Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh and comprising Justice Shahbaz Ali Rizvi and Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin, announced the verdict which was reserved on November 24.

In a 101-page judgment, the full bench held that to ensure fair trial and administration of justice, the publication of the inquiry report of the tribunal shall not affect the fate/outcome of the trial in progress in contravention of the law applicable thereto.”

Additional Advocate General Shah Gull, other law officers, counsel for victims Barrister Ali Zafar and PAT counsel Advocate Ishtiaq Chaudhry were present in the court. A large number of PAT workers were also there to hear the judgment.

The Punjab government had filed an intra-court appeal challenging decision of Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi in which the provincial government had been ordered to make the report public and immediately hand it over to the victims. The single bench had announced its verdict on September 21.

The full bench, in its judgment, expressed dismay over the use of inappropriate language against Justice Naqvi. “We have noted with concern that the language used in memorandum of this appeal regarding the learned judge is not appropriate,” the bench held. The judgment quoted some pieces from the Punjab government’s appeal in ground (j), “the judge in his yarn to label the proceedings,” in ground (k), “one of the aspects of judicial proceedings is legally misplaced and in fact naïve”, in ground (m), “the learned judge came to the aid of petitioners.”

The judgment held: “The government now cannot say the report is only for eyes of the government and not for public. When the inquiry was conducted to find out real facts and causes of the incident in public interest due to loss of lives and unrest in the general public, we are at a loss to understand how public interest can be served and unrest in the general public satisfied unless the inquiry report with real facts be made available to the general public.”

It also said: “It is obvious that apprehension of the appellants is misplaced and, with the disclosure of the report, there is a fear of harm or likely harm for administration of justice as well as a fair trial. The right to know under articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution is a factor which should make one way when secrecy is claimed for a report which was no repercussion on public security.”

The bench ruled the Punjab government could prove harm or likely harm by publication of the inquiry report on the Model Town incident.

The bench also expressed dismay over the language used by the Punjab government in its appeal against the judge who ordered publication of the Model Town inquiry report. The bench held: “It is a well-settled principle of law that judgments are open to honest criticism. Parties aggrieved have the right to express their opinion on a judgment if the decision has gone wrong on a particular question. But if the motive is to scandalise and use disrespectful language to criticise the judge, that will cause potential menace to the confidence of public in judges and bring administration of justice into disrepute. No doubt, judges are not infallible and like any other human being are liable to error, but the criticism is on the judge instead of judgment will indeed obstruct the administration of justice.”

The full bench said the words used by the Punjab government were not only inappropriate but they may also amount to contempt of court in more than one way. The bench expressed dismay, observing the appeal was drafted by the government pleader who, being a law officer, is expected to be well conversant with norms of administration of justice and language to be used in pleading.”

The Punjab government’s lawyer, Khawaja Haris, expressed his remorse over the language used in the appeal but told the judges that these words were used with bona fide intention only to emphasise the grounds of the appeal. Khawaja Haris had divided his arguments into two parts. In the first part, he argued the procedural impropriety and th mannerism in which the impugned judgment was passed and in the second part, he addressed the merits and questions of law involved in his appeal. He raised four points in his first part that justice should not only be done but also seem to have been done, the respondents approached the court with unclean hands, notice under Order XXVII-A CPC was not issued and that the writ was not maintainable, being alternative remedy available.

At least 14 people were killed and 85 others injured when the clash occurred between police and PAT workers over the issue of barriers put on the roads leading to Minhajul Quran Secretariat and the residence of Dr Tahirul Qadri.

Barrister Ali Zafar, Ishtiaq Chaudhry, Azhar Siddique and Khawaja Tariq Raheem represented the victim families and Pakistan Awami Tehreek. They had given arguments on publication of the report. Barrister Ali Zafar had argued that after the Model Town incident, there was a huge outcry amongst the people, the Punjab government, in accordance with its international commitments and the principle of law, was forced to request the Lahore High Court chief justice to form an inquiry commission to ascertain the true facts regarding the Model Town tragedy.

He argued that by constituting the commission, Punjab government accepted the fact that this was a matter of public importance, so an independent enquiry was required.

Relying on various UN conventions and the preamble of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013, he stated the fundamental right to information is the mother of all human rights and it is on this basis that other rights like freedom of speech and expression, freedom of press as well as democracy are dependent and that if people do not know the truth they cannot make informed decisions regarding their rulers.

Zafar also quoted various judgments. He argued the government was wrongly claiming that the release of Najafi’s report would prejudice the trial of any person or hinder the administration of justice. He contended this was a totally absurd argument which was not backed by any law, being based on mere assumptions. Instead, the report is an aid and tool to ensure that justice is done in the cases in which the government itself is involved. He asked the court to order the government to make the report public.

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