ISLAMABAD: The judge of the Accountability Court seized with three references filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members rejected on Thursday the defence counsel’s application for transfer of the cases whose judgements are still pending to another judge.

On July 6, Judge Mohammad Bashir convicted Mr Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law retired Captain Mohammad Safdar in the Avenfield properties reference, jailing them to various terms and imposing heavy fines on them.

In his application, defence counsel Khawaja Haris Ahmed had contended that the applicant had pointed out on several occasions that because the evidence in all the three references were the same, the verdicts should be announced simultaneously.

According to the application, the court in its July 6 verdict “has given its findings in respect of (i) status and relevancy of the JIT [joint investigation team] report, (ii) pleading of the co-accused... (iii) interviews of co-accused and their impact and relevancy (iv) applicant’s address to the nation on April 5, 2016 and his speech given on the floor of the National Assembly on May 16, 2016, (v) all assertions relating to Gulf Steel Mills and Qatar”.

Judge Bashir says he will include all objections raised by defence counsel in his verdict

It said the judge had already disclosed his mind on the evidence and documents produced by the prosecution in the Avenfield properties reference and it would not be appropriate for this court to continue holding trial in the Al-Azizia and Flagship references because the evidence in these cases were the same.

The application said that even in criminal cases it was agreed that a judge who had earlier formed an opinion about someone should not continue hearing a case because doing so might give rise to reasonable apprehensions that the trial would not take place in a fair and impartial manner.

Advocate Ahmed argued that the law on recusal by a judge was the same in other jurisdictions of the world as well. For instance, in Britain it was held by the superior courts that “a judge should not sit in any case where the circumstances would give rise to a perception of prejudice in the judicial system”.

He requested the court to transfer the case to another judge to ensure fair and transparent proceedings in trial of the accused in the Al-Azizia and Flagship references.

Mr Ahmed maintained that for the purpose of upholding justice, the transfer of the case had been requested because Judge Bashir’s opinions were now in the open. The judge said he would include all the objections raised by the applicant in his order. After that the defence counsel requested that the hearing be adjourned till July 16. The request was accepted by the judge.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2018