Not above Law [News International] Mar 7, 2012
The Supreme Court has rejected Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s plea to grant him special privilege and show restraint in deciding the contempt case against him. The PM’s counsel Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan has appealed that the apex court should “show greater restraint and forbearance with respect to a duly elected prime minister...when the very stability of the democratic system obtained by the people of Pakistan after so much sacrifice, may depend on the outcome of this case.” The court has now given its detailed judgment in the PM’s appeal against the contempt case and ruled that deciding cases on the basis of likely consequences will mean reverting to the malignant ‘doctrine of necessity.’ Indeed, it is ironic that what is taken as a given in civilised societies needs to be laid down in a Supreme Court judgment here in Pakistan, and the justices need to explain to the PM that those in a position of power, especially constitutional functionaries, need to be subjected to higher moral, ethical and legal standards than ordinary citizens. But this is a land where the social pyramid is literally inverted and where ordinary people are paying more taxes than the majority of lawmakers, and where those in power use the law to break the law. Which is perhaps why the court felt it necessary to articulate the obvious and inform the PM that the higher the office, the greater the onus to obey the law.
In a country where the system has been grossly abused to grant rights as privileges – and even these only to those in positions of power and wealth – it is no surprise that the SC had to spell out the basics in black and white: one, that all people, regardless of their stature in society, are equally bound by the law and expected to obey court orders; and two, that the possibility of contempt being committed by a constitutional functionary was a more, not less, serious matter than if the same had been done by an ordinary citizen. Indeed, the prime minister holds his office as a trust for the general public and has promised adherence to the Constitution and the law. If even constitutional functionaries stop showing obedience, then they have not only violated this trust but also created a wrong precedent for the general public to follow. It should be below the office of the prime minister to claim a ‘special privilege’ on account of executive office, since such an exception does not find any basis in the Constitution. Under Pakistan’s Constitution, the PM should diligently and faithfully serve the people and not rule over them with impunity. Indeed, as a duly elected prime minister the PM deserves respect, but he cannot break the law in the name of his office. The SC has reminded the PM of this basic fact.