The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday admitted for hearing a petition challenging the government's condition of furnishing indemnity bonds in order to secure the removal of ailing former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's name from the Exit Control List (ECL).
The court had reserved its judgement on the admissibility of the petition in the afternoon.
After declaring the plea as maintainable, the LHC initially summoned lawyers from both sides to present arguments on the merits of the petition on Monday. However, upon request from PML-N's lawyers, the court fixed the next hearing of the petition for 11:30am tomorrow (Saturday).
At the outset of today's hearing, the court asked if the federal government had submitted its written reply, to which the government's lawyer, Additional Attorney General (AAG) Chaudhry Ishtiaq A Khan, responded in the affirmative.
The court asked that a copy of the response be given to the petitioner's lawyer and told them that if they needed, they could take time to read the government's response.
Following this, the proceedings were briefly adjourned.
In its 45-page reply, the federal government opposed the request seeking unconditional permission for Nawaz to travel abroad, saying the LHC does not have the jurisdiction to hear the petition.
Cases against Nawaz are being heard in various courts of the country, the government said, adding that it has allowed the former prime minister to travel abroad for four weeks.
According to the government response, Nawaz's name was added to the ECL based on the National Accountability Bureau's (NAB) recommendation.
The government pleaded to the court to reject the petition as non-maintainable.
Following the recess, PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif's counsel Amjad Pervez argued that the LHC has the authority to hear the petition.
He said that several past court judgements support their stance, and presented copies of court orders to support his argument for Nawaz's name to be taken off the ECL unconditionally.
The government cannot deprive anyone of their fundamental rights, the lawyer argued, citing the example of former military ruler retired Gen Pervez Musharraf who was allowed to travel abroad.
At this, the bench pointed out that Musharraf's case could not be referenced because he had not been convicted when his name was taken off the no-fly list.
Justice Ali Baqar Najafi, who was heading the bench, noted that according to the record NAB has left the entire matter relating to removing Nawaz's name from the ECL to the government.
Adding to this point, Advocate Pervez said NAB had in a letter stated that the authority to add or remove names from the ECL rested with the federal government. He said following this statement, the federal law minister had asked NAB to again clarify its stance on the matter.
Government counsel AAG Khan informed the court that the names of Nawaz and his children Maryam Nawaz, Hassan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz were added to the ECL in the Avenfield case after the Supreme Court had ordered the filing of references against them.
He said Nawaz's name was added to the no-fly list after fulfilling all legal requirements.
Using an example, the bench asked which court a person would approach if they were a resident of Karachi and their name was added to the ECL in Islamabad.
"Every case has different merits and record," the government lawyer responded.
He said because Nawaz was sentenced by a NAB court in Islamabad and the appeal against it is being heard in the Islamabad High Court (IHC), the request seeking removal of Nawaz's name from the ECL could only be heard by the IHC.
AAG Khan argued that the government had not asked the Sharif family to submit surety bonds but indemnity bonds and that if Nawaz has reservations regarding submitting the same, he can approach the IHC.
The bench pointed out that the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case in which Nawaz is nominated is being heard in Lahore while PML-N counsel Pervez reminded the court that the Avenfield case had been filed by NAB Lahore.
AAG Khan said a court in Karachi had rejected a petition as non-maintainable that challenged a NAB case filed elsewhere.
At this, Justice Najafi reminded the government counsel that the petition currently being heard by the court concerns an ECL issue and a man who is "very ill".
After hearing the arguments, the high court reserved its judgement on the maintainability of PML-N's petition and later accepted it for hearing.
Ahead of the hearing, strict security arrangements were made. PML-N's legal team, as well as party leaders including Ahsan Iqbal, were present in the court for the proceedings.
A two-member bench of the court comprising Justice Najafi and Justice Sardar Ahmad Naeem had taken up the petition on Thursday evening, the same day that a PML-N legal team submitted it. The court had issued notices to the federal government and NAB to submit a written reply by today.
Addressing a press conference yesterday, PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif had rejected the government's conditional decision to allow Nawaz to travel abroad for medical treatment, accusing the government of playing "dirty politics" on the former prime minister's health.
Shehbaz, during the presser, announced that the party's legal team had approached the LHC against the decision.
He said the government by asking the PML-N to submit indemnity bonds to secure permission for Nawaz to travel abroad was, in fact, demanding "ransom" and the decision was not acceptable to the PML-N under any circumstances.
On Wednesday, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government, after much deliberation, had granted a one-time permission to Nawaz for four weeks to travel abroad for his treatment provided he submitted indemnity bonds worth over Rs7.5 billion.
The former prime minister had been rushed from Kot Lakhpat jail to the hospital last month after his personal physician Dr Adnan Khan raised an alarm over his deteriorating health. Following this, Shehbaz had submitted a request to the interior ministry as well as NAB for the removal of Nawaz's name from the ECL so that the former prime minister could travel abroad for medical treatment.
Nawaz, who was incarcerated after an accountability court found him guilty in the Al Azizia corruption reference, was granted bail by the Islamabad High Court on humanitarian grounds. He also obtained bail in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case, in which he is a suspect, from the LHC.
Meanwhile, in a statement, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said on Friday that the Sharif medical board had held a meeting. She said that doctors cautioned that if there was a further delay regarding Nawaz's health, it could prove to be deadly.
Thursday's court proceedings
A PML-N legal team led by Advocate Amjad Pervez filed the petition in the court as an urgent matter at around 3:15pm on Thursday with a request to condone the delay and fix it for a same-day hearing. AAG Khan and NAB’s special prosecutor Naeem Tariq Sanghera had appeared before the court as the petition was taken up around 4:30pm.
Advocate Pervez argued that the government’s condition of furnishing indemnity bonds to remove the name of the petitioner from the ECL was not based on any provision of the law. He said the condition had no legal standing since the petitioner had already been granted bail in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case by the LHC and his sentence in the Al Azizia Steel Mills reference had been suspended by the IHC.
AAG Khan sought time to verify from the record when asked whether the impugned order of the government for indemnity bonds was a result of any consensus and whether the petitioner was placed on the ECL on the recommendations of Lahore or Islamabad office of NAB.
The law officer also sought time to file parawise comments on the petition, which the bench duly allowed. The bench asked the law officer to assist it in a legal point on whether the government had the power to put any condition for removing the name from the ECL if there was a court order.