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Make-or-break verdict for Nawaz Sharif today

Updated July 28, 2017
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif leaves the JIT’s offices in the Federal Judicial Academy after his appearance before the investigators on June 15.—Mohammad Asim / White Star
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif leaves the JIT’s offices in the Federal Judicial Academy after his appearance before the investigators on June 15.—Mohammad Asim / White Star

ISLAMABAD: All eyes are on Courtroom No. 1 today (Friday), where a five-judge Supreme Court bench is set to announce the much-awaited verdict in the Panama Papers case, which will not only decide the fate of a thrice-elected prime minister, but is also likely to chart the country’s political future.

The bench that will announce the historic verdict will be headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, the same judge who had commenced his dissenting note in the April 20 judgement with a quote from Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather and declared Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ‘disqualified’ for not being honest to the nation.

The judge also had direc­ted the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to issue a notification of the PM’s disqualification, an opinion that was endorsed by Justice Gulzar Ahmed.

Editorial: Panama Papers case may mark a new era of accountability in Pakistan

But the majority judgement by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan had afforded the prime minister and his children another opportunity to explain their position before a specially constituted six-man Joint Inves­tigating Team (JIT).

Later, a three-judge bench consisting of the judges who handed down the majority verdict, become the implementation bench overseeing the working of the JIT. After going through the 10-volume JIT report, the bench closed proceedings on July 21.

Over the last few days, the entire country has been awaiting their verdict with bated breath. Gossip, speculation and rumours have been rife over when the final verdict will come and what conclusion the judges would arrive at. The most important question of all is whether the prime minister will be unseated or not.

On Thursday evening, the Supreme Court office put all speculation to rest when it issued a supplementary cause list, heralding the announcement of the judgement on Friday.

The verdict, however, will be announced by the larger bench in Courtroom No. 1 at 11:30am, even though the hearings were mainly held in the relatively smaller Courtroom No. 2.

Legal observers are of the view that the earlier minority judgement, sending the prime minister home, may become a majority view in case even one of the three majority judges rule against the prime minister.

Examine: Is this the end of the Sharif era?

Former Supreme Court Bar Association president Asma Jahangir described this development as very “unusual and inappropriate”, saying that three judges had heard arguments on the JIT report, but the final judgement was being announced by five judges.

“It makes me sad to see that the rule of law, which was upheld after the reinstatement of the judiciary, is now being flaunted in front of my eyes,” she said, adding that judges must remember they are under oath to remain consistent and give judgements even if they are unpopular.

“I feel sorry for the judges, since this case is like an ‘Albatross’ left by former Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali,” she deplored, referring to the mythical creature that became the symbol of shame in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

But when asked whether it was unusual for the five-judge bench, which already decided the Panama Papers case earlier, to sit in judgement again, Pakistan Bar Council Vice chairman Ahsan Bhoon brushed aside any impressions of impropriety.

Since whatever was announced in the April 20 judgement was an inconclusive order of the court and was signed by all five judges of the bench, the final verdict will also be announced by the same larger bench, he said.

Former additional attorney general Tariq Khokhar was of the view that the five-member bench was inexplicable and defied all past practice and precedent. “It could have been comprehended if this bench was constituted after the JIT report was filed, but now it does not make sense,” he said, adding that this was a crucially significant detail.

“The stance of at least two judges is on the record. They can only proceed further against the prime minister in the matter of perjury, forgery, concealment of facts and submission of false documents. They need just one more judge to turn the minority opinion into a majority view,” he said.

Speaking on a TV programme, Advocate Babar Sattar said the judgement that will be announced on Friday will be the first of its kind, since three judges had seen different material and heard different arguments after the JIT report was furnished, as compared with the other two judges.

Another senior lawyer, on condition of anonymity, told Dawn this was highly unusual and not normal. “The benches of the court usually dissolve after announcement of the judgment but this was an unusual case.”

To substantiate, he cited the famous US jurist and philosopher Ronald Myles Dworkin, who used to say: “Hard cases make bad law.”

“However, Friday’s decision will be a big decision,” he said.

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2017