ISLAMABAD: With the final round of the legal battle between the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf beginning this week, today (Monday) will be crucial for the opposition party’s lead counsel to impress the top court bench.
Seemingly struggling to substantiate PTI’s case with verbal arguments despite having significant documents, lead counsel Naeem Bukhari will be making his final submissions today before the ruling family’s new legal team starts counter-arguments.
Realising implications of the case, the Sharifs have replaced their counsels and engaged three of Pakistan’s top lawyers to rebut PTI’s allegations and satisfy the judges on the money trail of their contentious London flats. Senior lawyers Makhdoom Ali Khan, Shahid Hamid and Salman Akram Raja will defend the Sharifs.
PTI’s legal team, on the other hand, has shrunk as the case has progressed. Senior lawyers Hamid Khan and Ahmad Awais have already been disassociated from the case due to criticism on their performance within the party. Likewise, Babar Awan has also been not seen in the courtroom since the new larger bench started hearing and is not attending meetings of the party’s legal team either.
Lawyers, who have heard Bukhari’s arguments of the last three days’ proceedings, believe that the PTI lead counsel is unable to cite judgments on the issues of ‘dependency’ and ‘benami’. A segment of the party is also concerned about Bukhari’s performance and some members have advised the PTI leadership to instruct the lawyer to give only brief submissions, putting the ball in the Sharif legal team’s court to prove the ruling family’s innocence.
Independent legal experts have expressed concern over PTI’s refusal to accept the bench’s offer to constitute an inquiry commission to verify the documents, which have been submitted before the court by both sides. One PML-N lawyer told The Express Tribune that even the Sharif family did not want to accept the court proposal regarding the commission.
The legal observers said that despite being focused on Panamagate since April 2016, PTI chief Imran Khan was unable to put together the perfect legal team to contest the case. They believe the fate of the case now rests on how much the bench will look into the available material and the contradictions it may come across in Sharifs’ statements. However, they pointed out that the bench is divided over which side should shoulder the burden of proof.
Bukhari is expected to conclude his arguments today, allowing the Sharifs’ lawyers to begin their arguments. Salman Akram Raja will argue on behalf of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s son Hussain Nawaz. Makhdoom Ali Khan will argue on behalf of the premier while Shahid Hamid will submit a written reply on behalf of the prime minister’s daughter Maryam Nawaz.
Legal experts said the matter needs further probing before any final judgment is made. They said this week will be crucial for the fate of the case. It may be difficult for the Supreme Court to reject the Panamagate petitions but the prime minister’s disqualification has so far appeared impossible.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2017.