Pak Par special session to take up key bills

Islamabad: A bill aimed at shielding top leaders from contempt charges and curbing the Supreme Court`s efforts to push Premier Raja Pervez Ashraf into reopening graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari is set to be introduced in a special session of Pakistan Parliament today.

The government intends to get the Contempt of Court Bill 2012 passed by the National Assembly and the Senate before the apex court takes up the issue of reviving the corruption cases against Zardari on July 12.

A Constitutional amendment bill will also be introduced by the government to allow holders of dual nationality to contest polls, days after the Supreme Court suspended the membership of nine federal and provincial lawmakers, including former Interior Minister Rehman Malik over the issue.

The special session of the National Assembly or lower house of Parliament begins today while a session of the Senate or upper house has been convened from Monday.

The Contempt of Court Bill provides blanket immunity to top government functionaries for executive actions. It can also be used to launch disciplinary proceedings against a judge without such a move coming under the ambit of contempt.

Senior PPP leader Raja Pervez Ashraf became the Premier last month after his predecessor Yousuf Raza Gilani was disqualified by a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry for refusing to approach Swiss authorities to reopen the graft cases against Zardari.

The apex court has been pushing the PPP-led government to revive the cases against the President since December 2009, when it annulled a graft amnesty issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf that benefited Zardari and over 8,000 others.

The government has refused to act, saying the President enjoys immunity within Pakistan and abroad.

Prime Minister Ashraf has adopted the same stance as Gilani, saying the government cannot ask the Swiss authorities to reopen the cases as long as Zardari holds office.

If Parliament passes the draft contempt of court law, approved by the Cabinet on Wednesday, it will replace the erstwhile Contempt of Court Act 1976 and the contempt of court ordinances of 2003 and 2004.

Unlike the ordinances of 2003 and 2004 that explained in detail civil, criminal and judicial contempt, the proposed law focusses on actions that do not amount to commission of contempt of court.

Besides protecting the powers and performance of holders of public office mentioned in Article 248 of the Constitution, which include the President, Prime Minister, Governors, Chief Ministers, federal and state ministers, the proposed contempt of court bill shields "any authority" against contempt charges.

Under the proposed law, if an accused or a person convicted of contempt files an appeal, the original order will remain suspended till the matter is disposed of.

The draft states: "An accused person may also at any stage submit an apology and the court, if satisfied, may discharge him or remit his sentence." It further states that any "true averment made in good faith and temperate language for initiation of action" against a judge "shall not amount to contempt of court."

The draft law needs to be passed only by a simple majority in both houses of Parliament and legal experts have said the PPP-led ruling coalition has the numbers in both the Senate and the National Assembly to ensure the passage of the draft law. However, the opposition PML-N is expected to oppose this bill.

Another bill being introduced by the government is the Constitutional amendment bill to allow holders of dual nationality to contest polls.

The question of allowing politicians with dual nationality to become voters and contest elections has gained urgency after the apex court suspended the membership of nine federal and provincial lawmakers, including Rehman Malik.

This bill, proposed by the Ministry for Overseas Pakistanis, envisages the removal of a Constitutional bar on persons with dual nationality becoming lawmakers.

It could get support from the opposition as a PML-N Parliamentarian is among those suspended by the Supreme Court.

One more key legislation that needs approval from the Senate and National Assembly is a Presidential ordinance issued on June 24 to grant indemnity to all actions taken by Gilani as Prime Minister from the date of his conviction of contempt on April 26 to June 19, when he was disqualified by the apex court.