On The Matter Of Court Arrests

On The Matter Of Court Arrests
On 9th May, Pakistan witnessed a sight not seen since the days of Bhutto as the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan sparked protests and riots resulting in deaths, injuries and property damage worth billions as rioters spread chaos targeting everyday commuters as well as military installations and monuments. The spark for these protests was the arrest of Imran Khan, and not just due to the nature of the political crisis within the country, but in the manner in which the arrest was executed.

The former premier was awaiting his biometric verification for confirmation of bail within the premises of the Islamabad High Court when a large force of Rangers shattered windows and broke down doors to forcefully arrest him. Now it is a settled principle of law that whenever an accused is to be arrested, then the arrest must be executed in the most peaceful manner possible, so as to not create an environment of fear amongst the population. Whilst the arresting authority could shatter windows and break doors to arrest an accused, however that is solely for extreme cases wherein an absconding accused is hiding or trying to avoid police arrest. Even then, it is done by informing and in presence of the local community. Neither the Court, nor the registrar was apprised of this action. It was clear that the vandalism on the part of the Rangers was to create fear and terrorize the accused and his legal team.

As Imran was dragged away in a violent manner resulting in injuries to lawyers, the legal team of Mr. Imran immediately reached out to the Chief Justice of Islamabad High Court, wherein the Court declared the arrest legal. The Panel, headed by some of elite lawyers of the country, presented before the Honorable Chief Justice, the case for illegal detention and all of them failed to convince the Court as the Honorable Chief Justice of the High Court asked both sides whether arresting an accused within Court premises is legal or not and whether due process was followed?

The representatives from the National Accountability Bureau stated that it was legal, whereas the legal team focused on emotional issues in contrast to legal arguments forwarded by the NAB representative and highlighted the injuries sustained by bystanders during the arrest. The court held that this was unfortunate and cause for action against the arresting individuals, but ultimately not enough to overturn the arrest of the accused.

Ironically, what the legal team didn’t highlight is that two years ago, a similar incident had happened within the premises of the apex court of the country wherein Saif-Ur-Rehman, the CEO of B4U Investment Company faced arrest within the court premises. The then acting Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, heading a three-member bench, held that the sanctity of court premises must never be violated and the dignity of an individual is more important than recovery.

The Court admonished NAB for such an action and approved interim bail, ordering the immediate release of the accused in the case, as well as ordering the authorities to apologize to the court and the accused. This landmark note was not presented by the legal team, nor highlighted before the Honourable High Court and this crucial precedent could have convinced the Islamabad High Court, which could have resulted in Mr. Imran Khan getting relief from the court.

Further submissions could have held that our sister country, India, also declared that arrests on court premises are illegal and should be avoided by arresting authorities, and this was held by the Madras High Court as well as the Allahabad High Court, yet this was not presented as well. The reasoning behind such censure is that court premises are the domain of the judicature, wherein the individuals of Pakistan can seek justice and feel safe as they are protected under the shadow of law. The act of arrest is a violation of this separation by the executive and commands fear among the populace, that even within the protection of the courts, they could be arrested and the courts would only watch.

As reports came in that PTI leader Asad Umer had also been arrested from court premises as well, there is no doubt that this illegal activity must be declared void and the dignity of the individual in accordance with Article 10 of the Constitution of Pakistan be sanctified. The courts of Pakistan must guard their premises with vigor and not have their protection be violated by the executive in such a manner.

It is also important to highlight that the Al-Qadir Trust case has been in the works since June last year and according to the provided record, notices have been issued since October. Hearings started in November, which were attended by Mr. Bukhari as a representative of the former premier in January, thus it begs the question, how was the legal team ignorant of the fact that the inquiry had now converted into an investigation on 30th April and warrants had been issued since 1st of May.

Why didn’t the legal team assign a head counsel and associates to oversee the proceedings as well as the happenings within the Al-Qadir Trust case, especially when the state is looking for Imran to slip up? Why was the present team caught unawares and why weren’t pre-arrest bail and interim bail applications filed within this case especially, when nearly 2 weeks had passed for this procedure to take hold?

There is no doubt that the legal team has been negligent in protecting their client and as we witness Mr. Imran Khan being tried within a makeshift court, the people of Pakistan are left to wonder where the shadow of the courts can no longer provide safety and the officers of law, the lawyers, are woefully negligent or incompetent in protecting the interest of their clients, then who must they turn to for justice? What followed on the day was unfortunate not only for the economy and security of the country, but the arrest of the former premier was another unfortunate chapter in the history of security and legality in Pakistan. We have truly entered our Dark Ages.

The writer is a jurist, historian and an animal rights activist.