Lahore High Court’s Verdict Against The Ban On MAALIK Film: A Jurisprudential Development In Film/Cinema Industry
It is for the first time in the judicial history of Lahore High Court that a ban on an Urdu feature film has been set aside. In the last couple of years a huge development took place in the interpretation of law by the superior courts regarding constitutional, taxation, commercial and land matters. However the setting aside of ban on the Urdu feature film MAALIK is the first judgment regarding film/cinema industry by the Lahore High Court in its judicial history. When the federal government banned the film it was blatantly an illegal act because the basic argument involved in the proposition was that after the Eighteenth Amendment the censorship issue has been devolved to the provinces. This leaves the federal government incumbent to impose the ban.
Appearing as a leading counsel on behalf of the Opposition Leader Mian Mahmood Ur Rashid along with other petitioners, I argued before the judge, that the ban imposed on the film should be declared coram non judice as the Provincial Censor Boards have been vested with the authority regarding censorship issues and the Punjab Film Censor Board has not yet raised any objection. I further argued that if the Federal Censor Board decided to impose a ban then it should have been limited to the federal territory (Islamabad) and it should not extend beyond it. I also went on to argue that imposing a ban on a film based on a social issues would not only be a violation of citizens fundamental rights (freedom of expression) but would also be detrimental to the growth of the local film industry which is yet to blossom and mature. The application of locus poenitentiae principle in this case has also drawn the attention of the court towards a vital fact that the same federal government had accorded approval/clearance certificate to the film, but later on withdrew it by exercising its discretionary powers in a whimsical manner without following the principle of natural justice. Reliance was placed on the case citation 2003 CLC 1196.
On the opposing side the learned Deputy Attorney General argued that the film was a threat to the integrity of the country and had brought defamation to the institutions of the country which was why several citizens lodged a complaint to the Federal Censor Board against the film. It was further argued that freedom of expression was also subject to law and under Motions Picture Ordinance 1969, the Federal Government could impose a ban on the receipt of complaints of citizens. The opposing counsel further elaborated that the film was likely to create a chaotic law and order situation.
The honorable court allowed all the constitutional petitions by accepting the arguments/grounds of the petition and upheld an important observation, relying on the judgment of Andhra Pradesh High Court, 2006(4) ALD 374, Lakshmi Ganesh films vs Government of Andhra Pradesh (famously known as the ‘Da Vinci Code film case’), that if there was a conflict between the freedom of expression and the protection of privacy of unwilling listeners then the former shall prevail. The court also held that a ban on a film could not be imposed over mere apprehensions of the government, as fundamental rights are superior in nature.
Earlier, the Sindh High Court had also set aside the ban on the film. It is a good sign that the Lahore High Court has also given the verdict in favor of the film, which has furthermore exposed the corrupt practices of our political elite. The verdict had been reserved for the past three months and during this period the producers of the film suffered huge losses. Now this verdict would once again restore the confidence of film producers and enhance the prospects of the film-making business.
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