IS due process under threat or is justice being delayed? The political dimensions of a thrice-elected prime minister on trial for alleged corruption are obvious and undeniable.
That the individual on trial is effectively leader of the largest political party in the country and the trial appears to be reaching a conclusion just weeks ahead of a historic and fiercely competitive general election have significantly raised the political stakes.
Yet, the law exists to provide a fair and transparent path to justice and not be swayed by emotion or politics. An order by the Supreme Court requiring the accountability court to wrap up its work in one month has triggered a sequence of events that has left the conclusion of the trial in greater uncertainty than ever.
The lead lawyer of Mr Sharif, Khawaja Haris, has stepped down from the defence team citing an inability to work under an artificially imposed timeline, but the accountability court has now given Mr Sharif until next week to either convince Mr Haris to rejoin the Sharif legal team or hire a new lead counsel.
The accountability court judge has also attempted to dispel an impression that the Supreme Court had mandated that the accountability court work overtime and through weekends to complete its work.
If haste is discernible on one side, a case can be made that the other side is keen on delay. Conviction of Mr Sharif and his family members on the eve of the general election could derail the PML-N’s election campaign, especially if Mr Sharif is immediately taken into custody.
It is possible that Mr Haris’s exit from the defence team is simply an attempt to delay the trial proceedings, which the defence has effectively already achieved for at least a few days as the accountability court awaits Mr Haris rejoining the legal team or Mr Sharif finding a new lead lawyer.
However, an argument could also be made that the superior judiciary is unnecessarily allowing a perception to be created that it is in haste to have the accountability court complete the trial. Nawaz Sharif already stands disqualified from public and political office.
And regardless of the outcome in the accountability court, the trial will become a part of the country’s political and legal history. It is very important then that not only justice be done, but that it is also seen to be done.
Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2018