The path ahead for Sharifs & court

Updated September 16, 2017

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AN emphatic Supreme Court judgement disqualifying former prime minister Nawaz Sharif from holding public office was unlikely to be modified in a review by the very same bench that had disqualified him.

With the court’s rejection of the review petitions filed by the Sharifs, attention is likely to switch to the next phase of the family’s legal saga: the NAB references and accountability trials that will be monitored by the Supreme Court. But before that, Sunday’s by-election contest for Mr Sharif’s vacant Lahore seat will likely attract fresh scrutiny of the PML-N’s political strategy, which has veered from virtual confrontation with state institutions to passive cooperation since Mr Sharif’s ouster.

The sensible path from a democratic perspective for the PML-N would be to continue to keep the electoral process on track while the Sharifs contest the allegations against them in the courts.

While the Supreme Court verdict against Mr Sharif was disappointing from a strictly legal perspective, the PML-N supremo and the party leadership should recognise that, democratically, there is no other option but to stay within the confines of the legal and electoral systems and continue to try and improve them.

While there may be justifiable apprehensions about the fairness of trials in accountability courts that are to be monitored by a Supreme Court which has already moved against the family, the allegations against the Sharifs are serious and a complete accountability process is necessary.

If the Sharif family can present an adequate record of the legal accumulation of the wealth and assets the family possesses, it will undoubtedly strengthen the PML-N politically. With a general election scheduled next year, there is much at stake. The PML-N must recognise that the democratic process is greater than the legal woes of the family that leads it.

Just as clearly, however, other institutions, particularly the judiciary, need to demonstrate that faith in the constitutional democratic process is justified. The allegations against the Sharifs are serious, which makes it all the more important the judiciary scrupulously adheres to the very highest standards of justice.

The ambiguity surrounding the terms of Mr Sharif’s ouster — is it for life or a specified period? — is unwelcome and it should be clarified with firm legal reasoning in the detailed review judgement. Moreover, the court should try and address concerns about the violation of due process by the oversight mechanism that it has approved for the accountability trials of the Sharif family.

Just as Mr Sharif and his family deserve no special treatment under the law, the law must ensure that the standards of justice applied are fair and consistent. As events since Mr Sharif’s ouster have underlined, the judicial and democratic processes themselves are under scrutiny and must be proved to be fair.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2017