LAHORE – MIAN DAWOOD - The Article 248(2) of the Constitution provided blanket immunity to President Asif Ali Zardari from all criminal proceedings, a full bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC) observed on Thursday and directed the petitioner’s counsel to define whether the nature of contempt proceedings was criminal, civil or sui generis (neither criminal nor civil).

The bench also sought assistance on the constitutional point that how the court could initiate contempt proceedings against President Asif Ali Zardari in the presence of Article 248 (2).

The bench headed by LHC Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial resumed hearing on the contempt petition moved by Munir Ahmad against President Asif Ali Zardari for not relinquishing political office in the wake of a verdict issued in May 2011 in the dual office case.

Additional Attorney General Abdul Haye Gilani informed the bench the counsel of the federal government, Advocate Wasim Sajjad, who was made a pro-forma respondent by the bench on the previous hearing, was busy at the Peshawar High Court and a written request had been moved before the LHC for adjournment of the case. The bench turned down the request of adjournment and asked the petitioner’s counsels to advance arguments.

In his arguments, Advocate AK Dogar said the absence of the government’s counsel would have no effect on the proceedings since the government was not a party in the case but a pro-forma respondent. He also alleged the government was trying to delay the proceedings because this suited it.

However, the bench asked the counsel to apprise the court on the maintainability of the petition seeking contempt proceedings against the president for not relinquishing the political office as PPP co-chairperson.

Advocate Dogar read out judgment of the Supreme Court against the Contempt of Court Act 2012. He tried to convince the judges that the constitutional immunity under Article 24(2) was not a hurdle in the way of punishing the president for committing the offence of contempt of court.

During Dogar’s arguments, Gillani again reached the rostrum and aggressively objected to the proceedings in the absence of the federal government’s counsel. He asked the bench to adjourn the hearing.

However, the head of the bench directed the additional attorney general to silently sit down since Advocate Dogar’s arguments were not against the federal government. “The judges want to know what the Supreme Court had said on the matter of immunity in the verdict in the Contempt of Court Act 2012 case,” the chief justice held.

The bench also observed that Advocate Wasim Sajjad was supposed to submit written arguments on the maintainability of the instant petition, but he failed to do so though he had stated that this was the first case of its nature in the constitutional history of the subcontinent.

Dogar resumed the process of arguments and said in the verdict against the Contempt of Court Act 2012, the apex court had clarified that a competent court could punish under Article 248(1) read with Article 25 any person who committed contempt of court. “The statements of President Zardari and details of his activities published or aired by the media are enough to prove that he is defying the court order,” he maintained.

On hearing this, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, another member of the bench, told the counsel that no court could start criminal proceedings against President Asif Ali Zardari in view of sub-article 2 of Article 248 of the Constitution.

“In the verdict in the Contempt of Court Act 2012 case, the apex court has not interpreted sub-article 2, 3 and 4 of Article 248; and these three articles are purely about immunity to the president,” Justice Shah observed.

“It is clear that the president enjoys immunity from criminal proceedings under Article 248(2),” the bench further observed and ordered the petitioner’s lawyers, Advocates AK Dogar and Azhar Siddique, to satisfy the court on presidential immunity from criminal proceedings. The bench will resume hearing of the case on October 10.