LAHORE: Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif’s release from jail on bail in a money laundering reference may be delayed further as the Lahore High Court (LHC) bench that had granted him bail two days ago has so far not issued its written order.
The LHC bench comprising Justice Sardar Mohammad Sarfraz Dogar and Justice Asjad Javed Ghural after hearing the final arguments of National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) prosecutor and counsel for the former chief minister on April 14 had risen after telling the parties that they would be informed about its decision shortly.
Some 15 minutes later a court staff member came out of the judges’ retiring room and disclosed the result to the parties, saying the petition had been allowed subject to bail bonds of Rs5 million.
An official said Justice Dogar, who headed the bench, had signed a one-page short order and sent it to Justice Ghural for his signature, which was still pending. While there are unconfirmed reports that Justice Ghural dissented with the bail-granting order and kept the file with him to write his own decision, the staff of the judge told reporters that they had no instructions whatsoever about any change in the order.
However, the LHC website shows the result of Shehbaz’s petition as “allowed”. Advocate Azam Nazir Tarar, the counsel for Shehbaz, told Dawn that he had not been informed by the court if there was any change in the bail-granting order. He said the court’s staff rather gave an impression that a detailed verdict would be released instead of a short order. He said it would be unprecedented if a member of the bench changed his decision after an announcement.
On Friday, both judges attended their courts to work as single benches.
As per the new roster of the judges issued by Chief Justice Mohammad Qasim Khan for the week commencing on April 19, Justice Dogar and Justice Ghural have been transferred to Multan and Bahawalpur seats, respectively. A new division bench comprising Justice Alia Neelum and Justice Farooq Haider has been constituted to hear cases relating to NAB at the principal seat.
Commenting on the situation, senior lawyer Zafar Iqbal Kalanauri said the matter would be sent to a referee judge if the division bench gave a split decision on the bail petition. After going through both conflicting decisions, the referee judge would give an opinion.
However, he said, it was premature to say anything when legally there existed no order, neither unanimous nor a dissenting one.
Shehbaz was arrested on Sept 28 in the reference after the LHC that had granted the pre-arrest bail initially on June 3 refused to further extend his pre-arrest bail. He remained in NAB’s custody for over three weeks before the trial court remanded him to judicial custody on Oct 20.
Previously NAB had arrested Shehbaz on Oct 5, 2018 in the Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme and later in Ramzan Sugar Mills case. In both cases, the LHC released him on bail on Feb 17, 2019.
A statement issued by the LHC spokesman advised media to avoid speculations about the order before its release. It said the court decisions needed to be discussed cautiously. It noted that unnecessary speculations about any order of the court before being signed by the judges caused unwarranted anxiety among the public.
The order in the bail petition would be released to media once it is signed by the judges, it concluded.
Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2021