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ISLAMABAD: Accepting the plea made by the Sharif family, the Supreme Court on Tuesday referred a set of review petitions — filed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his children against the July 28 judgement in the Panama Papers case — to Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar with a request to re-constitute a five-judge larger bench than the smaller one that took up the matter on Tuesday.

But before sending the applications of the Sharifs back to the chief justice, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, who was heading the three-judge bench, wondered if the review petitions were heard by the five judges then two of them would be sitting idle in the bench since the decisive verdict disqualifying Mr Sharif was taken by the majority three judges.

The bench had taken up the applications of Mr Sharif and his children that a five-judge bench and not a smaller bench consisting of three judges should hear their review petitions.

Consequently, the review petitions will be taken up by the larger bench on Wednesday since the chief justice has mentioned constitution of the five-member bench while hearing a different case.

On Sept 8, the Supreme Court constituted a three-judge bench consisting of Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan — the same bench which heard objections on the report of the Joint Investigating Team (JIT) that investigated the Sharif family in the Panama Papers case. But on July 28 the five-judge bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa announced the final verdict, disqualifying Mr Sharif for not being Sadiq and Ameen.

There was another way of looking at things, Justice Khan observed, saying that the verdict in the Panama Papers case was delivered by the three judges and in case this bench changed its view then the final order of the five-member bench would naturally be modified.

On Tuesday, Advocate Salman Akram Raja representing the children of Mr Sharif argued that the larger bench should hear the review petitions along with the one meant for the three-judge bench which was moved by the petitioners with abundant caution to obviate the possibility of a technical objection by the Supreme Court office.

Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, however, asked the counsel whether the grounds in the review petitions against the five-judge bench of the final verdict also included the same grounds taken by the three judges.

Justice Saeed, however, observed that the petitioner was free to raise any grounds they liked but the court would decide about it on its own satisfaction, adding that the petitioners themselves had chosen the arena or the battleground by filing review petitions against the verdict of the five-judge bench as well as separately against the verdict of the three-judge bench.

Justice Ahsan said that the additional grounds taken by the petitioner was that the larger bench issued the final order without hearing the case.

The counsel conceded that the five judges should not have assembled on July 28 to announce the final verdict.

Senior counsel Khawaja Haris Ahmed who appeared on behalf of Mr Sharif argued that on July 28 three judges passed unanimous verdict which was signed by all the five judges. Therefore, it was the judgement of the five judges and if the matter was taken by the five judges it will up to minority judges to sit or recuse in the bench.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2017