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ISLAMABAD: A Supreme Court judge on Tuesday feared that disqualifying the prime minister on the basis of off-the-cuff statements would set a dangerous precedent in the country’s judicial history.

“We, as human beings, make off-the-cuff statements without a sense of guilt and then we usually review them. But disqualification on the basis of such statements will be setting a dangerous precedent,” observed Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan during a hearing of the Panama Papers leaks case.

The observation came when Advocate Naeem Bokhari, representing the PTI, referred to the PM’s April 5, 2016 address to the nation and his May 16 speech to parliament, reiterating that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif never mentioned anything about his investments in Qatar and that the Qatari letter that came later was a fabrication.

Contrary to the claim that the sale of Dubai and Jeddah factories was the source of funds for the business run by his sons, Hassan Nawaz — the younger son — had claimed to be a student in London in 1999 and said he was living in a rented apartment, while pumping huge amounts of money into at least six different companies that he owned until 2005.

Though the Sharif family claimed that Hassan became the owner of the four flats in 2006, he credited a sum of 705,051 pounds in 2002, 990,244 pounds in 2003, 2,079,712 pounds in 2004 and 2,351,877 pounds in 2005.

Justice Khosa regrets making an observation against parliamentarians during Monday’s hearing

This showed his business was flourishing and the unexplained funds had been available since 2001, the counsel argued, adding that there was nothing on the record to show how the outstanding liabilities were paid off when 75 per cent shares of Gulf Steel Mills were sold in 1978.

Mr Bokhari also pleaded that without considering the allegations levelled in the Panama Papers, the court should give a finding over the prime minister’s misstatement before parliament since his speeches were definitely not off-the-cuff, but were written statements.

Justice Khan, however, observed that the entire controversy revolving around the purchase of four London flats and the concealment of assets of the PM and his sons stemmed from the Panama Papers leaks. Before giving any finding, the court has to examine the role of the prime minister after scrutinising the entire record; can the court render a momentous judgement on the prime minister’s guilt without appreciating the evidence, the judge asked.

“Momentous decisions have been taken on the basis of the Panama Papers around the world,” retorted Mr Bokhari.

But Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed asked the counsel whether any of those were judicial decisions.

“Many documents that you referred to are deficient and lack credibility,” regretted Justice Khan, emphasising that the apex court was not seized with a criminal trial at the moment.

The statement made by the prime minister in parliament on May 16, 2016 was not part and parcel of these criminal transactions (money laundering), the judge said.

Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, however, asked the counsel to explain how to connect the prime minister with a family business which was being controlled by Mian Mohammad Sharif — the father of the prime minister who died in 2004. Was the prime minister controlling all the money and what share did he have in the entire business, the judge asked.

Justice Saeed asked the counsel to read Article 10-A of the Constitution, which ensures due process and fair trial, before asking Mr Bokhari whether it was possible to give a finding that would affect the prime minister’s ability to hold his office, without a fair trial and recording of evidence.

On Tuesday, the counsel also referred to a 1994 report by former Interior Minister Rehman Malik, the then additional director of the Federal Investigation Agency, on the basis of Ishaq Dar’s confession against alleged money laundering by the Sharifs. The purpose is to provide material to evaluate how the money was laundered, the counsel argued.

But Justice Khan observed that this letter was outside the scope of the current controversy, adding that this was not material to be considered in a petition filed under Article 184(3) of the Constitution. Under Article 184(3) the Supreme Court has the jurisdiction to enforce fundamental rights if they are breached.

“Do you know what happened to cases the court took up under 184(3), when the court began to fix the price of sugar, which could not be implemented?” the judge inquired.

“Do not drag us to that extent where we become the subject of ridicule. We want to maintain the dignity of this court, which is very important for us,” Justice Khan asserted.

Referring to Rehman Malik’s report, Justice Khan argued that a confessional statement remained a piece of paper unless it was proven. This confession can be used by an accountability court but not by the Supreme Court.

Justice Khosa inquired about the fate of the report and asked whether Rehman Malik pursued it after becoming the interior minister. The counsel replied in the negative.

At the outset of Tuesday’s proceedings, Justice Khosa regretted making an observation against parliamentarians on Monday and said that he should not have said so, adding it was too generalised a statement. “I stand corrected,” Justice Khosa said.

Jamaat-i-Islami chief Siraj-ul-Haq also filed an application before the apex court, requesting that the prime minister be summoned in person to clarify the controversy that had arisen due to his statements before parliament, in order to ascertain the truth.

Published in Dawn January 11th, 2017

Comments (26) Closed

Babar Jan 11, 2017 08:27am

I just pray whatever decision the honorable justice system comes to is based on merit; for the betterment of the country.

Dr. Tankra Jan 11, 2017 08:54am

OK. I say I have 3 wives. Then somewhere else, I say I have 2 wives. Then, again, I say I have no wives. My wives come to know about all this. Is that OK?

Osman Jan 11, 2017 09:13am

Those were not offhand remarks.

Nadeem Jan 11, 2017 09:21am

A speech on the floor of parliament, and an address to the nation formally were "off-the-cuff" remarks?? Really??

Rehan Jan 11, 2017 09:27am

No justice no progress no economy, simple

Dr khan Jan 11, 2017 09:33am

Dignity of court is important but so is JUSTICE !

nuzhat shireen Jan 11, 2017 09:58am

the supreme court judges should decide this case according to law and they are not responsible for the after results. this supreme court has given decision against former two prime minsters belonging to people party. now this case will decide the future of our country that there is punishment for corruption of elite class.

Hatim Jan 11, 2017 10:32am

Justice only for the weak is an effective way to save democracy.

ENQUIRE Jan 11, 2017 10:37am

Prestigious post of PM in our country requires anyone's disqualification even based on off-the-cuff remarks. How justice can prevail, if you are not stringent to implement the governing laws and continue to find a way to save so called democracy where no elite follows the rule of law.

Maqsee Jan 11, 2017 12:28pm

How can a speech related to an issue surrounding the country's PM that was scheduled on the floor of the Parliament be consudered informal and off the cuff remarks?? Those remarks were not made extempore and were not part of a question answer session in the Parliament!

zafar ahmed Jan 11, 2017 12:33pm

@Nadeem Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan is genius !

Zahid Akbar Jan 11, 2017 12:36pm

Honorable Court had observation We, as human beings, make off-the-cuff statements without a sense of guilt and then we usually review them. But disqualification on the basis of such statements will be setting a dangerous precedent,” Was the the statement by Prime minister off-the-cuff? It was a well thought out, well rehearsed and deliberate speech to Parliament and subsequently to The Nation.

Zahid Akbar Jan 11, 2017 12:37pm

Right in the same case Honorable Justice Saeed Khosa made Off-the -cuff statement regarding Article 62 and 63 and regretted the very next day. We call this as off-the-cuff and greatness on part of the Honorable judge to regret very next day. In case of prime Minister no regret is visible and insistence in proving what he said is right is visible from him and his team actions in press briefings.

Masoud Jan 11, 2017 12:46pm

Disqualifying the prime minister on the basis of off-the-cuff statements would set a dangerous precedent in the country’s judicial history" NOT to will in fact be a very dangerous trend. Floor of the house is a sacred place where only Trust & Honesty is suppose to rule. Lose words in the parliament & later saying it was only a political speech is in fact a very damaging trend. Pakistan will come under great pressure if the judgement is not considered unbiased. Please let the truth prevail whether is goes against any individual or even against high chair. Pakistan cannot sustain corruption.

Kashif Jan 11, 2017 01:33pm

In Webster Dictionary, meaning of "Off-the-cuff" is given as: not prepared in advance: done without planning or preparation. Those speeches were definitely prepared and written in advance, as we all know.

Skeptic Jan 11, 2017 01:40pm

To start with, no judge, especially a Supreme Court justice should be making public statements or sharing their thinking so openly.

The matter is pending before this court. It is unethical and unprofessional for a judges to opine their thoughts on how they may be considering a pending case.

I've never seen something like this in any country outside Pakistan. Judges in most countries are not even available to the press, much less issue statements or give interviews on cases in their court rooms.

F Khan Jan 11, 2017 01:42pm

Anyone please correct me if I am wrong, any statement in the parliament by a lawmaker is not contestable in a court of law? If yes, then what is that the judges are saying wrong? Why are the PTI supporters finding this point so difficult to understand?

ABE Jan 11, 2017 01:49pm

Have these judges heard the term 'hold judgement' until the proceedings are completed? Why are they issuing such opinions and titbits on a daily basis?

I already see which they court is going to go. The court is support to be seen as objective and just. Judges issuing their opinions during the proceedings from the bench is rather unusual.

Pakistani Jan 11, 2017 01:56pm

@F Khan There is a thing which is called oath and in civilised countries people holding public office/position resign and go home if they breach the code. Secondly, if whatever is said inside parliament is not to be accounted for then any law, resolution etc coming out of parliament should have zero value.

M. Malik Jan 11, 2017 02:25pm

We see the handwriting on the proverbial Supreme Courts walls already. The dissension between a panel of judges is no unusual. and is in fact normal.

What I find rather disturbing are the court proceedings reporting, and remarks of the judges before the case is fully heard and evidence submitted. The opinions of the judges are supposed to be private - until the ruling of the court is published and each judge is then able to articulate his position and reasons for disagreement with the others in the panel. By issuing their opinion before the conclusion of the court, taints the outcome and influences other judges and their own independent thought process.

Anwar Mahmood Jan 11, 2017 02:43pm

Disqualification will destabilize the country and no one wants to see that happen.Let the next elections decide if the nation wants him or not and let him stay or go in an orderly or disciplined way.

Nasir - London Jan 11, 2017 03:57pm

@M. Malik: Opinions should not play any part in the administeration of law. Laws are laws and opinions are opinions.

Muhammad, canada Jan 11, 2017 04:06pm

What is the difference between a lie and an off the cuff remarks?

Nasir - London Jan 11, 2017 04:11pm

@Anwar Mahmood It would be most appropriate if the Prime Minister resigns with dignity like the Norwigian Prime Minister rather than be disqualified if the Court decides so.

Muhammad, canada Jan 11, 2017 04:12pm

@Pakistani o u r talking of civilized world, I see.

Muhammad, canada Jan 11, 2017 04:20pm

@Anwar Mahmood that is not how it works. You cant hold the action. That is like justice delayed is justice delayed. Nothing wrong will happen if this person is disqualified.