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Prime ministers who were summoned by the Supreme Court

Two were disqualified

SAMAA | - Posted: Nov 10, 2021 | Last Updated: 2 months ago
Posted: Nov 10, 2021 | Last Updated: 2 months ago

Prime Minister Imran Khan is not the first serving prime minister to appear before a Supreme Court of Pakistan bench, though he was probably more comfortable than most of his predecessors.

Prime ministers in Pakistan have faced courts on various charges or have been summoned by courts to clear their position. However, most of them were embroiled in legal battles after leaving the power corridors.

In the past, at least three prime ministers have appeared before the Supreme Court while they were still in power. Imran Khan is the fourth one.

Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif was the first serving prime minister to be summoned to the Supreme Court of Pakistan. In November 1997, the Supreme Court was hearing a case against the anti-terrorism courts set up by the Sharif government and the Fourteenth Amendment sharif-led parliament had passed, when Nawaz Sharif harshly criticised Chief Justice Sajad Ali Shah. He was found in contempt of court and summoned by the Supreme Court.

What was the contempt of court case?

A New York Times report published on November 29, 1997, puts it in the following words referring to 14th Amendment: “After the President signed the latter law, the Supreme Court stayed its implementation. That brought blasts from the Prime Minister, which led to the contempt charges.”

The 14h Amendment had restricted MPs from “floor-crossing” or switching loyalties. The special anti-terrorism courts that the Sharif government set up were dubbed as parallel courts by Chief Justice Sajad Ali Shah. But there was more to the acrimony between the prime minister and the chief justice. Justice Shah was among the 10 judges who had dismissed Nawaz Sharif’s first government in 1993.

In 1997 at a press conference, Nawaz Sharif accused Chief Justice Sajad Ali Shah of overstepping his authority. On November 30, 1997, when Sharif appeared before the court, unruly workers of his party stormed into the Supreme Court and damaged property.

Nawaz Sharif apologized in the court saying “I have neither committed contempt of court, nor do I intend to do that.”

He was able to avoid the wrath of the court, though his government was ousted in 1999 in a bloodless military coup.

Years later, another prime minister was found in contempt of the court.

Yousaf Raza Gilani from the Pakistan Peoples Party was summoned in 2012 by the Supreme Court after he refused to write a letter to the Swiss authorities against his party’s head Asif Ali Zardari.

The court disqualified Gilani for holding any public office for five years. He ceased to be both the prime minister and the member of the National Assembly. Gilani returned to national politics in 2018.

Gilani was succeeded by Raja Pervez Ashraf, who wrote the letter to the Swiss authority to avoid contempt of court charges.

In 2017, Nawaz Sharif was ruling the country as prime minister for the third time when he faced an assets-beyond-means case in the Supreme Court after the Panama Leaks revelations. Nawaz Sharif had to appear before a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) set up by the Supreme Court to investigate the charges against him. On June 15, 2017, the JIT grilled him for three hours. In the following month, the Supreme Court disqualified him for life.

Other former prime ministers who faced courts after leaving the power corridors include Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Another former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto appeared before courts to respond to corruption charges.

Imran Khan, the fourth serving prime minister to appear before the Supreme Court, was more comfortable on Wednesday. The court summoned him to know what the government was doing to punish official responsible for security lapses that lead to the Army Public School attack in 2017. The attack predates his government which came to power in 2018.

Justice Ijazul Ahsan told the premier that the court respects him but it was “important for the government to respond to the questions of the parents who lost their children”. The prime minister assured the court that he would take action against anyone named by the court. He said there was no sacred cow in the country.

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