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Editorial

September 17, 2017

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No review

No review

The Supreme Court’s dismissal of all the review petitions filed by Nawaz Sharif, his children and Ishaq Dar has brought some finality as all legal     options have been exhausted.        Now, according to experts, the Sharif’s will have no option but to appear before the court, even though some ministers had claimed there were other choices. There was also unanimous opinion that the review petitions would not have changed much in any case. A review could have provided clarity on the scope and effect of the verdict but no lingering questions have been answered and, in fact, some new ambiguities may have been added.    In fact, at a time when clarity was needed, the Supreme Court issued a warning saying the UAE salary issue which formed the basis of Nawaz’s ouster was just “the tip of the iceberg”. Since disqualifying Nawaz was the most extreme action the courts could take, legal experts are left wondering how a verdict could be any more adversarial to the former prime minister and why, if indeed there is more evidence against him, why it was not made part of the case. The disqualification of Nawaz has inevitably been seen as a matter of a technicality since he had not withdrawn the salary that was deposited in a UAE account. The case also moved away from the original allegations that the Panama Papers showed Nawaz was corrupt. Why, then, would the Supreme Court not frame charges that would be less controversial and more substantial?

With the Sharif family’s appeals process now exhausted, the ball is in the court of the National Accountability Bureau.         It has  said it will      file      an appeal in the Supreme Court against the Lahore High Court judgment that had dismissed the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case. This could be important as it may end up dragging          Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif        – and maybe even his family – into the legal mire.          But commentators have wondered how much independence the accountability body will truly enjoy and how much credibility can be attributed to such an exercise. The Supreme Court had already said it did not trust NAB and so ordered that its work be supervised by the apex court. The problem now is that it is the other side which will no longer have faith in the independence and fairness of NAB.   The Supreme Court has said that the judge supervising NAB will not be involved in the day-to-day investigation but then one wonders why there was a need to supervise NAB in the first place.  The functions of investigators and prosecutors are kept separate from those of judges by law to ensure the fairness of any corruption trial; it is feared these lines may get blurred.         

The next challenge facing Nawaz Sharif is the trial court which will hear corruption-related cases against him. While the Supreme Court has maintained that the trial court will not be prejudiced against Nawaz, the former prime minister’s legal team is not expecting much relief. It is rare for a case to be first be adjudicated on by the Supreme Court – which has made its own views on the matter clear – and then have a lower court hear it.          Even though the report of the Joint Investigation Team is not irrefutable – as said by the court itself – and though the JIT itself became quite controversial, the praise lavished on the JIT and the definitive language in the judgement, raise the possibility that the trial court will just echo the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court judgement against Nawaz Sharif was a first-of-its-kind. It set a precedent that a sitting prime minister can be removed by the courts       on the basis of Articles 61 and 62 without a criminal conviction.     Given the consequences of that decision, it is important to ensure that the verdict is unimpeachable.        Both the political and legal communities are worried this means elected representatives can be kicked out for almost any reason, with Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani being the latest to voice his concern.        That is why some legal voices had called for a larger bench to be constituted. Maintaining a balance between different institutions is vital to a functioning democracy. Some problems have already been seen in the precedents set by the removal of the prime minister. Now, it is vital that there be as few issues as can be in the final verdict. The Sharif family and its legal teams, while obviously unhappy about the way the case has unfolded, have refrained from making any untoward remarks about the courts.      The Sharifs’ strategy was to critique the verdict and not create chaos in the run-up to today’s       NA-120 by-election and next year’s general elections. It is obvious the PML-N is not giving up on the political front for now; and for the political future of the Sharif’s, much depends on what turn the next few months take.

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