After more than three (painstaking) years of political and legal haggling, the honorable Lahore High Court has ordered that Justice Baqir Najafi Report be made public, and its contents be shared with the families of the victims who were mercilessly massacred in Model Town by Punjab Police, on the fateful day of 17th June, 2014.

This decision is being celebrated (as a moral, legal and political victory) by PAT and opposition political parties, whereas members of PML(N) have once again resorted to blaming the honorable Court, questioning its motives, and crying foul against the interpretation and application of law.

To better understand the precise issues involved, it is essential to review Justice Naqvi’s judgment in some detail.

By way of background, prior to the instant case being heard by Justice Naqvi, a Full Bench of the honorable LHC (consisting of three honorable judges) had been hearing six different petitions relating to the Model Town incident. However, despite a lapse of three years, these petitions have not yet been decided, and the honorable Full Bench had not passed any order for making the Najafi Report public.

In this backdrop, a fresh constitutional petition was filed by the legal heirs of those who died (or were injured) during the Model Town incident; this petition was fixed before Justice Mazahir Ali Akbar Naqvi, who proceeded to listen to detailed arguments from all sides, and decide the matter. Through this petition, the heirs of the victims had prayed, inter alia, that 1) they be provided an official copy of the Najafi Report, 2) the report made public, in exercise of the fundamental ‘right to information’ (Article 19-A of the Constitution); and that the “original Report” be submitted in the Court itself, so as to ensure that the same “is not tampered with or manipulated in any manner”.

The (good) government opposed this petition, primarily hiding behind technicalities of law and procedure. Specifically, the government argued that Justice Naqvi could not order for the Najafi Report to be made public, because: 1) the matter was already sub-judice before the honorable Full Bench; 2) that the Najafi Report is “not a public document”; 3) that the Najafi Report was “exclusively for the consumption of the executive”; 4) appointment of the Najafi Commission was only “to seek guidance to avert future incidents”; and 5) making the Najafi Report public “might prejudice the public order, which is exclusively within the domain of the government to tackle”.

In an elaborate and erudite manner, Justie Naqvi’s order considers each of these arguments in detail, and concludes that there is a legal and constitutional obligation on the government to disclose the Najafi Report. Specifically, in terms of maintainability of the Petition, Justice Naqvi concludes that, as had been “conceded” by the government, the instant petition was the only one that had been filed by “legal heirs of the deceased or injured”, whereas those pending before the Full Bench were different in nature, and had been filed by individuals who were not “aggrieved persons” for the purposes of the instant controversy.

Turning to the merits of the case, Justice Naqvi observes that the issue is one of “public importance”. In fact, the very notification of the Government of Punjab, dated 17th June 2014, which requested for the constitution of a commission/tribunal, declares that it is “expedient to determine in public interest the real fact(s), cause(s) and incident, measures taken and pre and post handing of the incident.” As such, Justice Naqvi concludes that “it is apparent that the outcome of such an inquiry commenced on account of public interest must be brought in the notice of the public at large”.

To further elaborate the legal imperative for making Najafi Report public, Justice Naqvi points out that the contents of the report were “judicial proceedings”. In this regard, the honorable Court’s order points out that Najafi Commission had been constituted under the West Pakistan Tribunals of Inquiry Ordinance, 1969. Section 5(5) of the said ordinance itself declares that “Any proceedings before the Tribunal shall be deemed to be a judicial proceeding”. Also, the said Commission had been empowered, by law, to record evidence on oath. And per section 4(m) of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1898, “Judicial Proceedings” include all such “proceedings in the course of which evidence is or may be legally taken on oath.” As such, Justice Naqvi concludes that “by all means the proceedings carried out by the Tribunal are judicial proceedings”, which are public documents under the law.

To demonstrate how “judicial proceedings” are “public documents”, Justice Naqvi turns to Qanun-e-Shahadat Order, 1984. Specifically, he points out that Article 85 of QSO declares that “Public Documents” includes all “acts or records” of “official bodies and tribunals”, as well “public officers, legislative, judicial and executive” [emphasis added]. Consequently, Justice Naqvi declares that the provisions of QSO, read with the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013, leave no doubt that Najafi Report is “a public document”, and its access must be given to the “general public”.

Finally, canvassing the relevant case law concerning judicial responsibility and function, Justice Naqvi’s order concludes that Najafi Report “is a public document being outcome of judicial proceedings, therefore, in public interest, it is directed that the same be publicized forthwith so that legal heirs of the deceased, as well as injured, may be able to know about the actual wrong doers who directly or indirectly were instrumental in the gruesome occurrence, to agitate their grievances in befitted manner in the interest of safe administration of justice” [sic].

The government has decided to prefer an appeal against this order. It is their right to do so, of course. However, what has become painfully clear, in the wake of Justice Naqvi’s order, is that the government has no desire or intention to release the Najafi Report, despite rhetoric to the contrary. All this while, the likes of Rana Sanaullah had publicly argued that government would release the report, if a court of ordered the same. Now, they have run out of excuses. Except, of course, to blame the judiciary for enforcing the law.

It is one thing to hide behind political rhetoric on issues such as Panama Leaks and the NAB cases. While terrible in itself, but one can understand that PML(N)’s narrative on Panama (and its criticism of the judiciary) is a purely political ploy. But Model Town massacre and the Najafi report are different. Here, more than two-dozen people (including pregnant women) lost their lives to the barbarity of State organs. This tragedy has no place for politics. It has no place for arguing the minutia of procedural law.

Perhaps an appeal will suspend Justice Naqvi’s order, keeping the Najafi report secret for a moment longer. But in the final analysis of humanity (and religion?) the murderers will be brought before the Seat of Eternal Power, where no one cant hide behind positions of political influence and hyper-technical interpretations of law.


The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.