After a highly politicised few days on the road to Lahore, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has exercised his legal right to ask for the review of the July 28 verdict in the Panama Papers case. The petitioner has also requested a stay order on further implementation of the verdict until a decision of the petition is announced. If the matter proceeds further and is allowed by the courts, all eyes will be on the Supreme Court and how it handles the review process. But this much can be said: the verdict that disqualified Nawaz Sharif from holding an elected office has divided the legal and political community on legal grounds as well as its political implications. The review petition has asked a number of legal questions – many of which had already been aired by legal experts. One of the points raised has been that of the former PM being disqualified without getting a regular trial. As was raised by commentators after the verdict, the petition also questions how five judges could have delivered the verdict when only three judges had ordered and examined the JIT report. It also questions how two judges could have signed two opposing final judgments. Since the disqualification was based on an ‘asset’ not having been declared, the petition has also challenged the definition of ‘receivable income’ that was used in the SC judgment. Many legal observers have also pointed that out, saying that the original case was about the Panama Papers and not about a technical definition. The petition has also expressed scepticism over the role and authority of the JIT members and has then gone on to wonder about the legality of an SC judge supervising the NAB investigation into the former PM and his family. There is a strong possibility that this petition will now be followed by a request for either a full bench review or at least a larger bench review.
Many commentators think that the SC will need to take up the review petition in a fair and legally sound manner because the SC had promised a judgment that would stand the test of time. Perhaps for this sake, the SC would be willing to answer the many questions being asked regarding the legal basis of the judgment. There are legal observers who find many of the special procedures and exceptions made in this case rather unnecessary. Legal experts have insisted that using Articles 62 and 63 to disqualify Nawaz Sharif was unnecessary and has ended up opening a Pandora’s Box for the democratic future of the country. The opinion is that it would have been better if the former PM had been removed once the charges against him had been firmly established in the original case. The SC judgment has led to heated discussions about constitutional change, with the political community worried about the perceived lax criterion that now exists for disqualification. What is obvious, though, is that we need to know what the true impact of the whole affair will be on the evolution of democratic institutions in Pakistan.