SC reiterates decision to resume hearing Imran’s Toshakhana plea after IHC ruling on his conviction

Published August 24, 2023
Pakistan Bar Council’s  Executive Committee Chairman Hassan Raza Pasha and Vice Chairman Haroonur Rashid speak to the media outside the Supreme Court on Thursday. — DawnNewsTV
Pakistan Bar Council’s Executive Committee Chairman Hassan Raza Pasha and Vice Chairman Haroonur Rashid speak to the media outside the Supreme Court on Thursday. — DawnNewsTV

The Supreme Court (SC) reiterated its decision on Thursday to halt proceedings on a plea challenging the remand of the Toshakhana case to Additional Sessions Judge (ASJ) Humayun Dilawar — who convicted PTI chief Imran Khan in the case — until the Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) decision on another petition seeking the suspension of the former premier’s sentence.

On August 5, a trial court in Islamabad had convicted the PTI chief for “corrupt practices” in the case pertaining to concealing details of state gifts and sentenced him to three years in prison. The verdict means that he stands disqualified from contesting general elections for five years.

Imran had subsequently approached the IHC against his conviction. He had also approached the apex court against the IHC’s decision to remand the case back to the trial court judge who had convicted him.

A three-member SC bench, comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, had taken up the plea, with the CJP observing: “Prima facie, the decision by the additional sessions judge contains defects, but we will not intervene at this stage; rather wait for the outcome of the high court decision.”

The petitioner was behind bars since August 5 and his plea seeking suspension of the sentence was pending before the high court, therefore, “out of respect to the high court, we will wait for the decision in the matter”, the CJP said while dictating the order.

The IHC, which resumed hearing the plea for the suspension of Imran’s sentence earlier today, has adjourned the hearing until 11am on Friday (tomorrow).

The IHC and the SC were hearing the pleas submitted to them simultaneously today, with Latif Khosa appearing as Imran’s counsel before the top court.

During the hearing, the CJP observed that the IHC hearing was still under way.

“The high court is finding a solution in the matter. This is the beauty of our system.

“Let the high court’s decision come. We will hear the plea [filed in the SC] after that,” he said and adjourned the hearing until the IHC’s decision.

The SC also directed the attorney general for Pakistan to submit a report on Imran’s “living conditions in jail” by August 28.

During the hearing, Khosa complained about a policeman’s presence during one of his meetings with Imran in jail, at which the CJP asked him “not to say anything that is not on record”.

PBC takes issue with SC seeing ‘defects’ in Imran’s conviction

Earlier today, the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) took issue with the apex court’s acknowledgement of “procedural defects” in the Aug 5 conviction of PTI Chairman Imran Khan, saying that there should be no “interference” in matters pending before the subordinate judiciary.

In its order issued after yesterday’s hearing, the SC noted that the trial court called the respondents (Imran Khan side) a number of times. Since neither the petitioner nor any of his authorised representatives were available, the trial court chose to commence hearing ex parte and awarded a three-year sentence to Imran.

The Sc observed that while recording his statement before the trial court under Section 342 of CrPC, Imran had expressed his intention of producing a defence witness, but the trial court on Aug 2 turned down the request, saying the witness was not relevant to the controversy.

The SC regretted that the trial court through its judgement had defied the IHC’s directions that it must first determine the question of jurisdiction as well as the maintainability of the case.

Commenting on the matter today, PBC Executive Committee Chairman Hassan Raza Pasha said that the main appeal against Imran’s conviction was not fixed before the SC.

“But yesterday’s remarks by the SC which we saw and heard, it seemed as if the whole appeal was decided, and we saw criminal jurisprudence changing,” he said.

“It seems as if there is no trust left in the honourable high court judges. They are also equally honourable and respectable judges, and are passing verdicts according to their conscience … it amounts to interference in the smooth functioning of the high court, appellate court,” Pasha said.

“What decision will the high court make?” he asked. He noted that the lawyers of a certain political party, an apparent reference to the PTI, were saying that the SC’s observations had amounted to an acquittal.

“So will it be inferred that he was acquitted due to the SC’s pressure? And if they don’t, which high court or subordinate judiciary can make a decision either way in light of these observations?” he asked.

He said that the PBC respected the SC and they did not want the court’s esteem to suffer. “There should be no interference in matters pending in the high court,” he said, adding that any interference was unfair to the other party in the case.

“We have seen that in other cases an order is issued, that we expect from the high court to decide the case in such and such manner … Yesterday, we felt that directions were given which should not happen. We, once again, say that no one should be prejudiced,” he said.

He noted that in the past the courts were called “Sharif courts”. “We don’t want the public and lawyers to call the courts by another name,” he said.

Pasha said that the judiciary should be apolitical and should function within the parameters of the law.

Responding to a question from a reporter, Pasha said that the PBC — which he termed the “highest statutory body of lawyers” — wanted the apex court’s respect and honour to remain intact.

“We think that we are also custodians of the Constitution. We talk about the Constitution so we want all matters to operate according to it,” he said.

Meanwhile, PBC Vice Chairman Haroonur Rashid said that the PTI chief had filed an appeal against his conviction in the Toshakhana case, which was still pending before the IHC.

“In that appeal, it has to be seen whether the conviction is right or wrong. That is the high court’s domain, and the SC’s observations from yesterday directly influence lower courts and high courts.”

He noted that high courts and lower courts were subordinate courts. He further said that if the two now issued a verdict according to what they deemed fit, it would seem as if they didn’t consider the apex court’s observation.

“So to give such an observation is not right, legally or ethically. Because neither an appeal nor a bail (plea) was pending before the honourable SC. The appeal and the plea will be decided by the high court.”

Rashid noted that the observations made by the SC yesterday were plastered all over the newspapers. He said that the SC had “assumed” it was hearing the appeal against the conviction.

“There is no matter pending before the honourable SC,” he said, as he also highlighted the council’s objections to SC benches. “We have said this before also that these benches are favouring a party,” he said.

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