LAHORE: The Lahore High Court’s administration committee on Friday approved ‘removal from service’ of Judge Arshad Malik on charges of misconduct after a year-long inquiry into the video scandal that broke last July, sending ripples through political and legal circles.
The seven-judge committee, headed by Chief Justice Mohammad Qasim Khan, took the decision in the light of recommendations made in a report of inquiry conducted by a high court judge into the conduct of the judicial officer, former judge of an accountability court who had convicted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Azizia reference and acquitted him in the Flagship reference.
Both the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) hailed the decision, with the former seeking acquittal of its leader and the latter calling it the end of “PML-N era of blackmailing judges”.
The legal fraternity, however, observed that the scandal and subsequent removal of judge Malik indicated a complete decadence in justice system and put a big question mark on legitimacy of convictions.
The PML-N had accused judge Malik of convicting the ex-premier in the Al-Azizia reference under duress as per his video confession, however, the judge later claimed that he had been blackmailed by the PML-N supporters after which he acquitted the ex-premier in the Flagship reference.
• PML-N wants Al-Azizia reference sentence voided • Minister terms dismissal an ‘end of blackmail era’ • Question mark over conviction of politicians, says PBC
The video scandal broke on July 6, 2019 during a press conference of PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz in which she said the judge in the video admitted that he was blackmailed into convicting ex-PM Nawaz in the Al-Azizia reference under duress. Later, the Islamabad High Court summoned the judge and directed him to explain his position. Malik, in his affidavit, claimed that he had been blackmailed by the PML-N supporters because of an “immoral video” and admitted that he had met Mr Sharif at his Jati Umra residence and Hussain Nawaz in Saudi Arabia.
The IHC on Aug 22, 2019, suspended the accountability court judge and repatriated him to his parent department (LHC) for further proceedings. The LHC then made him OSD and the administration committee approved an inquiry against him on charges of misconduct and violation of the code of conduct.
Terming the conduct of judge Malik ‘shameful’, the Supreme Court had described the slackness of the Ministry of Law in taking action against the judge as an ‘attempt to give refuge’ to him.
On Friday, an LHC official said, the inquiry judge, Justice Sardar Ahmad Naeem, recommended maximum punishment of removal from service for judge Malik after finding him guilty of misconduct.
He said minutes of the meeting of the administration committee that also comprised Justice Muhammad Ameer Bhatti, Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan, Justice Shujaat Ali Khan, Justice Ayesha A Malik, Justice Shahid Waheed and Justice Ali Baqar Najafi would be released soon.
Fate of cases
Asked for his legal opinion on the fate of proceedings conducted by judge Malik, Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) Vice Chairman Abid Saqi said a conviction or trial could not sustain once it was proved that there had been biases.
He said the country’s judicial history had a precedent when Supreme Court had quashed a judgment by Ehtesab bench of the LHC in case of former president Asif Ali Zardari. He said the judge Malik Qayyum was also made to resign when it was established that there was bias on his part.
Mr Saqi regretted that the video-scandal of judge Malik and his removal on misconduct indicated a complete decadence in justice system. “This puts a big question mark on integrity of justice system and legitimacy of convictions of other politicians and common people as well.”
The PML-N leadership believed the judge’s removal established innocence of ex-PM Nawaz and demanded his sentence in the Al-Azizia reference be declared null and void.
“The LHC Administrative Committee’s decision of sacking Arshad Malik establishes that Nawaz Sharif was unjustly sentenced. His innocence stands proven today. As a natural corollary, Mian sb’s sentence ought to be declared null & void,” PML-N president and Opposition Leader in National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif said in a tweet on Friday.
Mr Shahbaz said: “I am thankful to God Almighty for vindicating PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif by proving his innocence. This decision by the High Court Administration Committee is clear evidence that Nawaz Sharif isn’t guilty.” He said justice merited that the three-time premier should be exonerated and all sentences against him be annulled.
Expressing her delight on the sacking of judge Malik, Maryam Nawaz tweeted: “The decision of seven respectable judges to sack Arshad Malik shows how Nawaz Sharif was convicted (in Al-Azizia case). Now for the judiciary’s prestige and sake of justice, the tainted sentences of the tainted judge should be annulled.”
She said: “Today’s decision is the victory of truth and defeat of falsehood. It has vindicated Nawaz Sharif.”
National Party’s Senator Hasil Bizenjo said though the removal of the judge was a positive step, it would be in the interest of justice to probe the matter of Nawaz’s conviction that appears to have been decided because of the pressure on the judiciary by powerful elements of the state.
“Arshad Malik’s removal and misconduct proved that the verdict against the former prime minister was based on flimsy evidence and that it put a question mark on the independence of the judiciary. A majority of the people feel that the Panama case was a conspiracy against the democratic forces of the country. Even the former judge of the Supreme Justice Ejaz Choudhary has admitted that the judiciary is pressured by intelligence agencies. This is a matter of grave concern and the judiciary should probe into his revelations regarding the pressure of intelligence agencies,” NP Senator Bizenjo said.
Federal Information Minister Shibli Faraz said in a tweet: “Judge Arshad Malik’s dismissal from service is the drop scene of an era where certain judges were blackmailed through cronies. PML-N & its leadership should apologise to the nation for patronising blackmailing & corruption, traits of mafioso mindset.”
Special Assistant to Prime Minister on accountability Shahzad Akbar said Maryam demanded scrapping of all court verdicts of Judge Malik. “If her logic is accepted that Judge Malik had acquitted Nawaz Sharif in Flagship case, then it should be reversed. You (Maryam) should consult good lawyers. Like the Panama Papers case, you have eaten sweets before going through the verdict,” he said. “It must be remembered this Al-Azizia case was shifted to Arshad Malik’s court on Nawaz Sharif’s request as Nasir Butt was his close acquaintance. Justice Qayyum saga should not be forgotten. The Sharif family did such things with the judiciary in the past,” the PM’s aide added.
Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2020