Islamabad: Pakistan's Supreme Court on Friday struck down the government's new contempt law, aimed to prevent the premier being pressured to revive graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, setting the stage for the possible disqualification of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.

A five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry ruled that the Contempt of Court Act of 2012 was "unconstitutional" and struck it down.

The bench gave its order in response to more than 25 petitions that had challenged the new law.

The order issued by the court said: "Thus, having been left with no constitutional option, Contempt of Court Act 2012 is declared unconstitutional, void and non est, as a consequence is declared that the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003 shall be deemed to have revived..."

President Zardari had on July 12 signed into law the new Contempt of Court Act after it was passed by the two houses of Parliament.

The law was aimed at saving Prime Minister Ashraf from possible disqualification by the Apex Court for refusing to reopen corruption cases against Zardari in Switzerland.

The government had contended that the option of initiating contempt of court proceedings against the premier for not acting on the Apex Court's order had ended with the passage of the new Contempt of Court Act.

The new law had protected top government functionaries, including the President, Prime Minister and provincial Governors, from contempt for their executive actions.

Friday's judgement came five days before another bench takes up the case related to the Apex Court's order to the government to approach Swiss authorities to revive the graft cases against Zardari.

Prime Minister Ashraf's predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was disqualified on June 19 by the Apex Court following his conviction of contempt for refusing to reopen the cases against Zardari.

Legal experts have said Ashraf could face the same fate if he refuses to revive the graft cases.

The Supreme Court's order said the new contempt of court law had reduced the powers of the courts and provided immunity to government functionaries that violated constitutional provisions.

"It may be mentioned that this court has the power of judicial review to examine the constitutionality of any provision of any enactment, if the same is found to be contrary to the Fundamental Rights as well as constitutional provisions," the order said.

"A perusal of Contempt of Court Act 2012 suggests that it has been promulgated in haste obviously for reasons which have been admitted by learned counsel for the federation in the wake of the history of the impugned legislation...including the recent decision of the seven-member bench passed on 26.04.2012, in pursuance whereof the then Prime Minister was found guilty of contempt of court followed by another judgment declaring him to be disqualified...," the order further said.

The bench cited several judgements by the Indian Supreme Court on the issue of contempt of court in its order.


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