ISLAMABAD: Responding to a request for a second extension in the trial of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family, the Supreme Court on Wednesday granted the accountability court another month to complete the hearing of three corruption references, with a note of caution that in no event would miscarriage of justice be permitted.

Senior counsel Khawaja Haris, representing the Sharif family, opposed the extension granted, saying it would not be fair. The counsel had hoped for another extension of three months.

During the hearing on Wednesday, he cited the charter of human rights to emphasise that the accused should be granted as much time as they needed so that the rights of the defendants could be protected.

According to the Supreme Court’s July 28 verdict in the Panama Papers case, the accountability court was supposed to conclude the trial against the former prime minister and his family in six months. When that deadline expired on March 7, the apex court granted an extension of two months to conclude the corruption references — a deadline which expires on May 12.

Counsel for the Sharif family argues that a month’s time is insufficient

“We are confident that both sides — the prosecution and defence — will cooperate,” observed a two-judge SC bench comprising Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan, while reading out the order after Wednesday’s hearing. “God willing, this matter (reference) will end but we do not want to rush or twist your arms,” Justice Saeed said, pointing towards the counsel.

Advocate Haris had requested the court to grant an extension of three months since it had taken 19 days to complete the examination of star witness Wajid Zia, who headed the Joint Investigation Team that probed allegations of corruption against the Sharif family. Moreover, Ramazan was set to commence next month, he pointed out.

Justice Saeed, however, observed that the court could grant another extension if the reference was not completed.

But the counsel insisted that he would like to concentrate on the trial instead of coming to the apex court again and again requesting grant of time.

The counsel explained that he felt restrained since he had to argue on 30 law points one after the other that emerged during the proceedings of the trial.

When Justice Ahsan recalled how Muslim forefathers used to fight battles during the month of Ramazan, the counsel retorted that while they might be ready to wage war, the trial was a mentally draining experience, especially during the month of Ramazan.

Justice Ahsan assured the counsel that the Supreme Court was only interested in ensuring that the suspect received a fair trial under Article 10A of the Constitution, and said that the court was discreetly monitoring the corruption reference from a distance only to make sure that nothing happened arbitrarily. “We are looking at it so that you are treated fairly and that your due rights are protected,” said the judge.

The counsel argued that he had no idea what would happen, but added the defence would be impaired seriously due to the time constraint.

Earlier, Additional Prosecutor General Akbar Tarar told the court that they had finished recording the testimonies and evidence of prosecution witnesses in the Avenfield apartments reference against the Sharif family.

The statements of the suspects, under Section 342 of the CrPC, were yet to be recorded. In the Al-Azizia and Flagship references, they had completed recording testimonies of Mr Zia and other investigating officers, the AAG said, adding that the time granted earlier to complete the reference against former finance minister Ishaq Dar would end on June 9.

To a court query, he said that after the hearing resumesd on May 10, the prosecution would request the accountability court to record the evidence of the accused under Section 342. “Then we will learn whether the defence will produce their witnesses or not,” he added.

Justice Saeed commented that it was unfair of the counsel to question whether or not the defence intended to bring forward any witnesses before the accountability court.

At this, the counsel said he could not offer a satisfactory answer, at least not till all the testimonies of witnesses were recorded.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2018

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