Matters subjudice

Malik M Ashraf

THE scenes of rowdy behaviour by the PTI legislators in the National Assembly on Dec 14 in the wake of rejection of the privilege motions by PPP and PTI seeking debate on Prime Minister’s statement in the house on Panama Leaks, were very regrettable to say the least. The speaker as stated by him refused to admit the motions as the matter was subjudice.
So under the circumstances and the advancement of information technology which makes it difficult to hold back any information or opinion, the debate in the National Assembly was desirable. It was also opined that the restrictions on commenting or debating subjudice issues was also in contravention of the right of freedom of speech and people’s right to know. First of all it would perhaps be pertinent to look at it from the legal perspective before delving into the views being expressed.
In the domain of Law subjudice means, a matter under trial or being considered by a judge or court. It is almost accepted universally that the issues pending before the court should not be commented upon either by the media or the parties to the dispute at hand and in the case of the former only fair reporting is allowed. As is evident from the legal perspective it is not desirable to debate or comment on any case sub judice. Viewed from this perspective the action taken by the Speaker was beyond any reproach.
How could the custodian of the house defy the constitution framed by the legislature itself?. Debating the issue in the parliament would have violated the constitutional provision in regards to contempt of court. In regards to the argument that the issue has been commented upon and debated by the concerned parties and media, it can be safely said that it was a clear violation of the law and the constitution. If the court and other authorities have not taken any notice of this theatrical enactment it does not mean that the law has not been broken. In my view the court itself should bar the media and parties concerned to debate the issue publicly. Till such time this constitutional clause exists nobody has the right to discuss cases sub judice as it can easily influence the judges, It should not be forgotten that the judges are also human beings and their views on the facts of the cases are liable to be prejudiced by public pressure or the atmosphere built by media comments.
The advancement in information technology instead of being used as a justification for removing restrictions in regards to cases sub judice makes it even more necessary to protect the judges from extraneous influences. Now coming to the argument of restrictions regarding cases sub judices being against the fundamental rights of freedom of express or right to know of the people, it may be pointed out that these rights are not absolute and are subject to the law of the land and the professional ethics evolved by the media organizations itself, dictated by social responsibility theory.
Where in the world it is permissible for the media to divulge security plans or indulge in promoting fissiparous tendencies in the society? In which country it is incumbent upon govt to unravel all the details of its security policy and plans to deal with security threats? Nowhere, as it could have disastrous consequences for country. Dispensing justice is also an issue which relates to building a just society and therefore needs to be kept out of controversies and pressures that could undermine and vitiate spirit of justice.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.
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