The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday rejected former prime minister and PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif's appeals against his convictions by an accountability court in the Avenfield and Al-Azizia references.
An IHC division bench comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani had reserved the decision a day earlier after hearing the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) additional prosecutor general Jahanzeb Khan Bharwana and amici Azam Nazir Tarrar and Makhdoom Hussain.
Bharwana had cited the Supreme Court's 1985 judgement on Hayat Khan in which the bench observed that an absconder loses rights guaranteed in the Constitution including the right of audience.
In its nine-page judgement released today, the IHC stated that since Nawaz was a "fugitive from law hence has lost his right of audience before this court and we are left with no choice except to dismiss his appeal".
"There is nothing in the Constitution or the Rules to compel the court to decide on merits an appeal filed by an accused person who has chosen to be fugitive from justice and while remaining so decides to disobey or frustrate the orders, directions and process of the court from which he seeks justice," it added.
The judgement noted that Nawaz had been provided with a "fair trial" and he was convicted only after the trial court had provided him with the opportunity to plead his case and cross-examine the prosecution witnesses.
"[Nawaz] proceeded abroad and did not appear before this court despite [being] on bail and without any justification or basis, remained absent on a number of dates of hearing, hence this court was left with no option but to follow the procedure ... and declared him as fugitive from law," the judgement further said.
During yesterday's hearing, the NAB additional prosecutor general reminded the bench that it had already deliberated upon the issue of proclaiming Sharif an absconder.
He, however, argued that the court was at liberty to hear the connected appeals of Maryam Nawaz and retired Captain Safdar against their conviction in Avenfield reference.
Advocate Tarrar, on the other hand, argued before the court that prior to the 18th Amendment when Article 10-A, which guarantees a fair trial, was not inserted in the Constitution, the superior courts tended to reject the appeals of absconders and proclaimed offenders and there was no hard and fast rule for fugitives.
He, however, said that after Article 10-A was inserted in the Constitution, it ensures a fair trial and right of an audience even to those not present before the court.
He cited at least nine judgements where the Supreme Court and high courts kept the window open for the absconders while dismissing their appeals without touching upon the merits of their respective cases.
Justice Kayani remarked that in case the appeals are simply dismissed, the convict has the right to file an appeal before the Supreme Court and the apex court may remand this to the IHC if it is deemed necessary.
An accountability court had sentenced Nawaz to 10 years in prison in 2018 for owning assets beyond known income and one year for not cooperating with NAB in the Avenfield reference while his daughter, Maryam, was handed seven years imprisonment for abetment.
In the same year, he was sentenced to seven years imprisonment in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference with two fines — Rs1.5 billion and $25 million.
The former prime minister flew to London in November 2019 after the PTI government removed his name from the Exit Control List. He has remained in London since.