ISLAMABAD: The trial of former prime minister Imran Khan in the Tosh­akhana reference is likely to re-commence next week after a sessions court in Islamabad ruled that the case filed by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) against the PTI cha­irman was maintainable.

Additional District and Sessions Judge (ADSJ) Hum­­ayun Dilawar, while ruling that the reference was maintainable, revi­ved the stalled proceedings and summoned the witne­sses for testimony on July 12.

Mr Khan’s counsel Barrister Gohar Ali Khan, however, requested the court to adjourn the proceeding till July 10 as the lead counsel Khawaja Haris Ahmed was not available because of family engagements.

It was the third consecutive hearing in which the lead counsel did not appear before the court. When the court resumed proceeding on Saturday, Barrister Gohar was also not in attendance. After a brief adjournment, the court again convened.

Barrister Gohar sought an exemption for Mr Khan from personal attendance and also informed that Khawaja Haris was not available. The judge noted that neither the PTI chairman nor Khawaja Haris appeared before the court even once over the previous three hearings. Barrister Gohar argued that Mr Khan could not appear in the district courts due to security concerns. He requested for adjourning the proceeding till July 10.

The judge pointed out that the Islamabad High Court gave him seven days to decide on the maintainability of the petition. The ECP lawyer read out the relevant paragraph of the IHC judgement.

The IHC order stated, “[The] trial court has left the issues undecided and has dismissed the application of the petitioner with scanty reasons which left the main legal issues undecided or unresolved. It would be only proper for the learned trial court to decide the application afresh after hearing the parties with detailed reasons keeping in view the provisions of Article 10A of the Constitution as the foremost consideration” in seven days.

Initially, the PTI expressed jubilation and termed this order as a major relief for Mr Khan. However, a couple of days later, Imran Khan challenged the same order before the Supreme Court.

The ECP counsel argued that in the Qadir Buksh case, the Sindh government issued directions for filing a complaint against an accused. He pointed out that the ECP accorded proper approval for the filing of the complaint and an authority letter was also annexed with the Toshakhana reference.

He argued that the reference was filed after the ECP ruled against Mr Khan for concealing Toshakhana gifts. The lawyer added that the commission was a competent authority to file the complaint under Section 190 of the Elections Act.

He said the district election commissioner filed the complaint against the PTI chief. According to him, the speaker of the National Assembly sent the reference against Mr Khan to the ECP. The ECP served the chairman notices and sought his tax record which revealed that he concealed the details of gifts in the returns of the relevant years.

When the ECP lawyer concluded, the court asked Barrister Gohar to advance arguments. Mr Khan’s counsel, however, insisted on adjournment. He said that the court was depriving Mr Khan of his right to a proper hearing. He further said that the IHC had set July 12 as the deadline to conclude the arguments and if the decision would be made in haste it would be tantamount to be denial of justice.

The judge remarked that the lead counsel did not appear before the court and the reference was affecting the routine proceedings of his court. He decided the plea was maintainable and summoned the witnesses accordingly.

On May 10, the trial court ruled the case was maintainable and also framed charges against Mr Khan. However, IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq halted the proceedings and later directed the judge to re-examine the matter in seven days, keeping in view eight legal questions he framed to decide the maintainability of the reference.

Some of the questions included “whether the complaint has been filed on behalf of ECP by a duly authorized person”, “whether the decision of ECP dated 21.10.2022 is a valid authorisation to any officer of ECP to file a complaint”, “whether the question of authorisation is a question of fact and evidence and can be ratified subsequently during course of proceedings”.

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2023

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