The Lahore High Court on Saturday allowed former premier Nawaz Sharif to travel abroad for four weeks for medical treatment, saying the duration could be extended based on medical reports.
In a blow to the government, which had placed a condition of indemnity bonds for Nawaz's travel, the court ordered the federal government to remove his name from the Exit Control List (ECL) without any conditions.
A two-judge bench, comprising Justice Ali Baqar Najafi and Justice Sardar Ahmad Naeem, started hearing the petition at 11am and after multiple breaks and back and forth, delivered the verdict close to 6pm.
In the court-approved undertaking, Nawaz assured that he would return "within four weeks" ─ a time frame which was missing in the initial handwritten undertaking.
"Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif is granted one time permission to travel abroad as interim arrangement for four weeks and will return when certified by doctors that he has regained his health and is fit to return back to Pakistan," read the court order.
Nawaz's brother, who appeared in court, hailed the decision, saying the prayers of his mother, the nation and supporters have been granted. He signed an undertaking which stated he would "ensure return" of his brother "within four weeks or on certification by doctors that he has regained his health and is fit to return back to Pakistan".
"I further undertake to provide/send the periodical medical report of the doctor duly notarised by the embassy to the registrar of this court," said the document signed by Shehbaz.
"I also undertake that if at any stage, the federal government has credible information that Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif is living abroad despite his fitness to travel, a representative from Pakistan's High Commission would have a right to meet with his physician(s) to verify or confirm about his health."
According to the verdict, the court formulated five law points and admitted the petition for regular hearing which will be fixed in the third week of January 2020.
The law points are as follows:
Whether a convict at all be excluded from or included in the list of Exit from Pakistan (Control) under 2010 rules.
Whether the condition attached to the impugned memorandum can be separated or is a part and parcel of it.
Whether any conditions be attached unilaterally by the federal government in the impugned memorandum on the basis of Exit from Pakistan (Control) Ordinance, 1981 and the rules made thereunder.
Whether the impugned order can be passed for a critically ill convict only on the humanitarian grounds.
Whether the conditions so imposed are permissible even after passing of the orders of bail and suspension of sentence? If yes, will it strengthen the court's order in any manner.
Senator Faisal Javed of the ruling PTI said it would be decided whether to appeal the court's ruling or not once the written order is available.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan, while speaking to Geo, said the government has always respected court decisions. However, she reiterated Javed's stance that a decision on appeal has yet to be taken.
Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan pointed out that this is an interim order. When asked about appealing the verdict, he said once the detailed order is available, the cabinet would decide the matter.
The attorney general said that the interior ministry is the authority to remove the name from the ECL, however, there are examples from the past in which a person can fly after showing an attested copy of the court order to immigration officials.
Nawaz to leave for London tomorrow: Shehbaz
Following the court orders, Shehbaz Sharif said that an air ambulance will take Nawaz — who has been diagnosed with an immune system disorder — to London, most likely tomorrow.
The PML-N president said that he will be accompanying his elder brother.
"Initially, we are going to London but we will move to any other country as per doctors' advice," he said, adding that if needed, he will stay abroad with his brother.
The PML-N president added that Maryam Nawaz Sharif will remain in the country.
Meanwhile, party spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb in a statement said that arrangements were being made on emergency basis to shift Nawaz Sharif abroad for medical treatment.
She said that doctors needed 48 hours to stabilise Nawaz Sharif for a long journey. Doctors are taking measures to avoid heart problems and to maintain Nawaz's platelets count during the journey, she added.
The PML-N leader criticised the government for "creating hurdles in Nawaz Sharif's medical treatment without any justification".
Court drafts undertaking to break impasse
As the government and Sharif brothers during the day-long proceedings had remained at an impasse over the terms of Nawaz Sharif's travel abroad — specifically his return to Pakistan — the LHC said it would draft its own undertaking for the former premier's travel.
During the hearing, Justice Najafi remarked that in his opinion, it was not fair for the government to place conditions after the Islamabad High Court had granted bail to Nawaz Sharif. If Nawaz's health improves, the federal government's board can examine him, the bench pointed out.
After hearing arguments, the court presented its own draft for the undertaking and handed it over to lawyers of both sides for review. The government lawyer said he had some reservations on the draft prepared by the court.
The court, however, announced a four-week relief for the ailing former premier.
Back and forth on written undertaking
A little after 1pm, the court had directed Nawaz and Shehbaz to submit a written undertaking about the former prime minister's travel abroad and his return.
Following the court's directions, the PML-N legal team submitted a handwritten draft of the undertaking by Nawaz, which stated: "I do hereby undertake to return to Pakistan [...] to face the process of law and justice as soon as I am declared healthy and fit to travel to Pakistan by my doctors."
A separate undertaking was submitted by Shehbaz in which he stated: "I undertake to facilitate return of my brother on certification by doctors that he has regained his health and is fit to return to Pakistan."
The hearing was then adjourned until 2:30pm. When it resumed, Additional Attorney General (AAG) Chaudhry Ishtiaq A. Khan, representing the government, opposed the undertaking submitted and said it did not mention when Nawaz would leave Pakistan and when he would return.
He argued that the IHC had granted bail to Nawaz Sharif for a specific time period.
The counsel contended that to ensure the return of Nawaz Sharif, the condition of indemnity bond was placed. He demanded that the petitioners provide a time frame for Nawaz's return.
Khan said that the government had prepared a draft in response to the ones by Nawaz and Shehbaz, under which the government will be able to send, when it deems fit, a medical board abroad to establish whether the former premier could travel or not.
The court clarified that the doctors in United Kingdom would be treating Nawaz while the government's board will do a check up to determine his fitness for travel.
The court suggested to mention in Nawaz's draft that his medical reports would also be shared with the government.
Nawaz Sharif can submit the bonds to the court and not the government, if he wants, the counsel added. The bond is not currency, they are just papers of ownership, he said.
'God will bring him back'
Earlier, the bench asked PML-N President Shehbaz, who was in court for the hearing, if he was willing to guarantee that Nawaz will return. To this, Shehbaz said: "God will bring him back."
PML-N lawyer Amjad Pervez told the court that Nawaz had returned to Pakistan [last year after conviction in Avenfield reference] for the proceedings of the corruption references filed against him by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). He insisted that the former premier "respects the law".
Pervez further said that the IHC had suspended Nawaz's sentence and argued: "The government cannot interfere while the matter is in the court."
The court asked Nawaz's lawyer if the former premier was willing to submit anything as surety. The bench allowed PML-N's legal team to discuss the matter with Nawaz and adjourned the proceedings for 15 minutes, after which the lawyers held consultations with Shehbaz in the courtroom.
Condition attached to 'uphold court's writ'
In the first half of the hearings, the bench had asked AAG Khan if the memorandum by the interior ministry was "issued on humanitarian basis".
Khan said that the federal government was aware that the Nawaz's condition was "precarious", adding that the PML-N supremo was granted permission by the court to travel abroad for medical treatment. He argued that the condition of furnishing an indemnity bond was added in order to "satisfy the court".
"We imposed conditions to uphold the writ of the court," Khan insisted and said that "if the former prime minister wants to go abroad for treatment, he can go for a specified period of time".
"The court granted a bail of eight weeks to Nawaz Sharif," he said and added: "If Nawaz Sharif wants to go abroad for treatment, he can go, but first he has to satisfy the court.
"If the court is satisfied, we (the government) have no objections.
"If Nawaz Sharif does not want to submit the bonds to the government, then he can submit them to court," the AAG said.
"We will ask Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif to submit a written undertaking. The federal government can review it," the bench said. "This undertaking will be submitted in court; if the undertaking is not upheld then the law of contempt of court is available."
"The government is also asking for a [written] undertaking," Khan insisted. "So that legal action can be taken if Nawaz Sharif does not return."
Govt's one-time permission for medical care
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 condition was challenged in LHC by the PML-N legal team, on behalf of the former premier, on Thursday and was taken up by the two-member bench on the same day.
Nawaz, who was diagnosed with an immune system disorder, has been advised to go abroad for medical treatment. The former premier is convicted in two corruption cases and is a suspect in another.
The former prime minister was 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 Sharif 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.
Additional reporting by Adnan Sheikh