October 7, 2023
Prominent lawyers and artists have raised significant concerns regarding the Lahore High Court’s (LHC) decision to issue a contempt notice over a television advertisement by a paint company that shot an ad of humourously depicted courtroom proceedings in a somewhat imaginary courtroom.
A single-member bench on October 6, presided over by Justice Anwarul Haq Pannu of LHC’s Bahawalpur Bench served a contempt of court notice to the paint company’s owners, the three actors in the advertisement, and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra).
The advertisement featured well-known actors such as veteran artist Mahmood Aslam, and the popular Faisal Qureshi, and Tabish Hashmi. The court proceedings were portrayed in a satirical and comic style. In addition to the company owners, the court has summoned the three actors, scheduling a hearing for October 12.
However legal experts believe that such an application of contempt of court law impinges upon the freedom of expression and stifles creative liberty.
Former Attorney General Irfan Qadir criticised the bench for initiating the contempt proceedings.
“Issuing a contempt notice for such a trivial issue is misguided,” he said. He also emphasized that the country currently lacks a valid contempt of court law, as the one enacted by Parliament in 2012 was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.
“Until a new contempt of court law is enacted by the Parliament, no court possesses the authority to issue such notices,”
Meanwhile, members of the entertainment industry have also decried the court’s decision, asserting that such actions would only curtail the creative freedom necessary for offering lighthearted critiques on various issues.
Shahid Nadeem, a playwright associated with Ajoka Theatre, known well for his satire and irony, pointed out that courtroom scenes and judges were portrayed worldwide, and many times with a critical lens.
“It is our right to provide commentary on the judicial system and its stakeholders through comedy or other creative means, and we are determined to protect this right at all costs,” he said.
He also mentioned that courtroom proceedings and judges are depicted everywhere in the world. “There are numerous movies worldwide that revolve around the character of judges, including their corruption or personal issues,” he added.
Furthermore, he urged the superior court judges to take note of this matter, given their general openness to legitimate criticism. “I am surprised that a judge took the ad so seriously. Judges should possess a sense of humour,” he said.
Senior lawyer and former Chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council, Abid Saqi, criticized the court for issuing a notice over such a trivial matter. He stated that this action is equivalent to suppressing voices of dissent within civil society directed at the judicial system.
“We are living in a time where court orders are continuously being flouted by the executive organs of the state, and people’s rights to association and freedom are at stake. However, our judges are occupied with issuing contempt notices for such insignificant matters,”
He further expressed the view that the courts should refrain from squandering precious time on such frivolous issues, especially considering the significant increase in pending cases before higher courts.