ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday deferred the hearing of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s appeal against his conviction till Oct 7 after the defence counsel requested it to take up the matter once the judge’s video leak issue has been decided as it is directly linked with the pending appeal.

The two-member IHC bench comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani earlier asked Khawaja Haris Ahmed, the lead defence counsel for Mr Sharif, about how long he would take to conclude his arguments. In response, he said it would take at least three months.

Referring to the video controversy, Advocate Haris argued that his associate lawyer had applied for the affidavit and the press release of former accountability judge Arshad Malik that he had issued after the release of his purported video statement, but neither the affidavit nor the press release was provided to them.

In the video, judge Malik confessed that he had convicted the former prime minister in the Al-Azizia reference under duress. However, judge Malik in his affidavit after the video leak claimed that PML-N supporters had been using the immoral video to pressurise him for Mr Sharif’s acquittal in Al-Azizia and Flagship references.

Defence counsel says he needs three months to conclude arguments

The same judge acquitted the ex-premier in the Flagship Investment reference but sentenced him to seven years imprisonment in the Al-Azizia reference on Dec 24, 2018.

The Supreme Court also entertained identical petitions related to the video leak and passed observations related to admissibility of the video.

Advocate Haris informed the court that the apex court had passed observations without hearing the point of view of the defence counsel. He said there were certain portions of the SC’s order that needed clarity as this matter was directly linked with the pending appeal of Mr Sharif.

“We have the right to respond since this issue [video leak] is hindering the entire system of administration of justice, therefore, we require the certified copies,” the counsel added.

Justice Farooq remarked that the Lahore High Court, too, had asked for the affidavit of the judge but the IHC suggested them to obtain certified copies.

The IHC had already repatriated judge Malik to the LHC and the latter required affidavit of judge Malik in connection with disciplinary proceedings initiated against him.

Advocate Haris said: “We are very sensitive about it, therefore, we applied for the affidavit and the press release which were not provided to us.”

Justice Farooq remarked, “It is equally important for you as well as for NAB” and advised additional prosecutor general of the National Accountability Bureau Jahanzeb Khan Bharwana to obtain certified copies of the affidavit.

Justice Kayani then reminded the counsel that it had been months since filing of the appeal, but the arguments of the defence counsel were yet to start. When he asked the counsel about how much time he would require to argue on appeal, Advocate Haris replied that he would take at least three months to conclude his arguments.

This indicates that the IHC is likely to decide the case after the retirement of incumbent Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa, who was among the five-member bench that removed Nawaz Sharif from the Prime Minister Office and also issued directions to NAB for filing of three references against the Sharif family.

It may be mentioned that two members of the five-judge bench, which heard the Panamgate case, had already retired. Justice Khosa is due to retire on Dec 21.

When the IHC was about to adjourn the hearing of the appeal till next week, Advocate Haris reminded the bench that he had to approach the Supreme Court as some portion of the order related to the video leak required clarity.

The bench then adjourned the hearing till Oct 7.

A large number of PML-N leaders and supporters had gathered on the IHC premises. A few of them including Raja Zafarul Haq, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Khurram Dastigar Khan, Marriyum Aurangzeb, Tahira Aurangzeb, Barjees Tahir, Sadia Abbasi and some lawyers of the PML-N, were allowed to enter the courtroom.

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2019