ISLAMABAD: For three straight hours on Tuesday, the counsel for the three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif presented arguments before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on a petition seeking transfer of the remaining National Accountability Bureau (NAB) references against Sharifs.
At 12:00pm, Sharif’s counsel Khawaja Haris started presenting arguments on the transfer application in a packed courtroom.
At 3:00pm, when the IHC’s two-member bench comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb stopped him and adjourned the matter till August 2, many had left the courtroom while a few others successfully completed power naps.
The reason for power naps was not that the arguments were boring but because back rows were unable to hear what Khawaja was saying and, apparently, no one was expecting that he would continue for three hours on transfer application.
Subsequently, because of the shortage of time, the court could not take up the petition seeking suspension of the July 6 judgment of the accountability court, which would pave the way for the Sharifs to come out of jail, if accepted.
During Tuesday’s proceedings, the bench specifically asked if there were case laws to support Haris’ arguments.
To this, the counsel said the case at hand is ‘unique’ and ‘has no priors’ and hence, it was difficult to find a similar case.
The counsel further informed the court that the matter was brought to the court’s notice both verbally and in writing, but the court decided to conclude a reference and not others.
In his arguments, Haris argued that the two remaining NAB references have a common witness JIT head Wajid Zia the presiding judge of the accountability court Judge Muhammad Bashir has already disclosed his opinion on crucial aspects of the case and that the case should be transferred to any other court in the interest of justice.
Apparently, Haris said, the accountability court deviated from its earlier stance that all three corruption references against the Sharif family would be decided simultaneously, when the court held on June 5 that no such reason existed anymore.
Haris said by deciding one of the three references separately and independently of the other two, the judge has already disclosed his mind with respect to not only the accused who is the same in all three references but also in respect of the facts which are common to all three cases.
Once the court announced the judgment in one reference, he said, the judge should be obliged to stay his hand from deciding any of the other two references as a matter of propriety, equity and fair play.
Now, Haris said, the other two references should inevitably be transferred to and decided by any judge who is totally unfamiliar with the detailed facts and propositions of law involved in the cases.
He has been reiterating that all the references have at least 60 per cent of propositions of fact and 90 per cent of propositions of law which are common to them.
In his arguments, Haris said that the right to a fair trial of the accused should not be compromised in any manner. He drew the court’s attention towards November 8, 2017 when Judge Bashir had categorically held that all three references should be decided together, adding that the judge again reiterated to decide the reference together on March 2, 2018, and emphasized that “all three References should be decided together”.
In November 8, 2017 order, Judge Bashir had observed that “in order to avoid conflicting judgments, or any likelihood of ignoring any defence that will be produced by the applicant/accused in each reference, all the three references shall be decided simultaneously”.
However, on June 5, Haris said he had requested the accountability court to postpone final arguments until NAB’s witnesses, Wajid Zia and two investigation officers in Al-Azizia & Hill Metal and Flagship references, record their statement and are cross examined. He said the defence team was under the impression that the court would decide the cases together but the court went ahead without recalling any of the earlier orders or recording any reason whatsoever for deviating from the same.
Before the conclusion of the hearing, Justice Aurangzeb remarked that a story published in an English daily a day after the last hearing (July 17) had inappropriate comments from “followers of Haris’ clients”.
Justice Aurangzeb, expressing displeasure, said, “This isn’t the Supreme Court or the accountability court, we will proceed against anyone, no matter who he is.”
At this, Haris questioned whether the legal team or their process was part of the story, and Justice Aurangzeb replied, “The client’s followers should be careful. There will be no judicial restraint. As far as I know, everyone left the courtroom content. But there were inappropriate comments published the next day.”
He said that the judges were hearing the cases with an independent mind.
After hearing the arguments for three hours, the court scheduled the next hearing for August 2 when Haris will continue his arguments. Subsequently, NAB’s prosecutor will present his arguments.
The petition seeking suspension of the July 6 judgment, which could not be taken up due to lack of time, has also been adjourned for August 2