ISLAMABAD: On New Year’s Eve and soon after his swearing in as the 25th Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Mian Saqib Nisar constituted a slightly different five-judge Supreme Court bench to resume the hearing of the Panama Papers leaks case from Jan 4.
President Mamnoon Hussain administered the oath to the new chief justice, who replaced Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani, National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and other senior state functionaries, judges of the Supreme Court, parliamentarians, diplomats and lawyers attended the ceremony held at President House.
After the ceremony, the chief justice called on the president who congratulated him on his appointment.
CJP Nisar distances himself from hearing
After the retirement of Justice Jamali, who earlier was heading the larger bench hearing the Panama Papers case, the bench had to be re-constituted.
On Dec 9, former chief justice Jamali had postponed further hearing of the case till the first week of January after the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf opposed the formation of a commission to investigate the Panama Papers revelations about offshore holdings.
The court had no choice but to adjourn proceedings since the then chief justice was reaching superannuation on Dec 30 and with his farewell reference already scheduled for Dec 15, there was not enough time to decide the matter.
Before putting off hearing, the chief justice in his order had stated that the matters would not be treated as partly heard, meaning that the arguments from both sides would commence afresh.
After taking over as the chief justice, it was up to Justice Nisar either to head the bench himself or add another judge in his place.
The cause list issued by the court office for Jan 4 suggests that the names of two judges have been included. The new bench will be headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Ejaz Afzal, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan are its members.
Justice Amir Hani Muslim, who was part of the earlier bench, is not a member of the new bench. Justice Muslim is also reaching superannuation in March.
The bench will take up four petitions of Advocate Tariq Asad, Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq, PTI chairman Imran Khan and Awami Muslim League leader Sheikh Rashid Ahmed.
Both the petitioners and the respondents were quick to welcome the constitution of the new bench.
“A majority of the judges in the new bench have the advantage of understanding and knowing the views of the petitioners because they have heard their stance,” PTI leader Ishaq Khakwani said, adding that the apt questions put up by the bench showed that the judges had gone through the case carefully.
He said the new chief justice had opted not to sit on the bench hearing the case and it would be headed by Justice Khosa who was a good judge and had already heard the matter for one and a half months.
“I am happy that through the new induction, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has also been given representation and, therefore, the bench appears to be balanced to decide the case,” he said referring to Justice Afzal who is from KP.
Recalling Justice Afzal’s role as a member of the inquiry commission on allegations of rigging the 2013 elections and in the Royal Palm case, he said:
“I am aware of his knowledge and acumen.”
Senior counsel Akram Sheikh, who is representing the three children of the prime minister — Hussain, Mariam and Hassan Nawaz — also welcomed the changes in the bench, adding that he had absolute comfort while appearing before all its judges who were independent and above suspicion.
“I have been appearing before them and their independence is beyond any question.”
Referring to the case, he said that in his opinion, there was no answerable or contentious matter for the respondents. The petitioners were themselves to blame for the prolonged hearing since they first filibustered and then came up with 686-page downloaded documents from the internet, the lawyer claimed.
Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2017