Saturday October 23, 2021

Court may miss SC deadline in Sharif cases

February 22, 2018

ISLAMABAD: A critically over-burdened Accountability Court (AC), hearing four corruption references against ex-premier Nawaz Sharif, his family and former finance minister Ishaq Dar, is likely to miss the six-month deadline set by the Supreme Court (SC) for the completion of proceedings, The News has learnt.

After his disqualification from the Supreme Court as party president on Wednesday, the next worst outcome for former premier Nawaz Sharif could be a jail-term and conviction by an the Accountability Court on corruption charges, but the fate of former prime minister may be decided by a new judge of the Accountability Court, sometime in March or April this year.

Currently, there is no judge in the Accountability Court No 2 while court No 1 judge Muhammad Bashir is set to retire on March 12, a day before the apex court’s deadline expires. According to sources, more than 90 NAB references and dozens of other cases are pending with the two courts, making it almost impossible for one judge to decide the pending cases in time.

The sources told The News that the Federal Ministry of Law has written a letter to the Islamabad High Court Registrar on Wednesday to seek nominations for the appointment of two Accountability Court judges in Islamabad. Earlier, Judge Muhammad Bashir had written a letter to the ministry seeking appointment of judge for the Accountability Court No 2.

On the directives of the Supreme Court, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had filed four references against Nawaz Sharif and his children: Hussain, Hassan and Maryam Nawaz, as well as his son-in-law Capt (R) Muhammad Safdar and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in the Accountability Court in September last year. The apex court had directed the Accountability Court judge to conclude the proceedings in six months. Justice Ijazul Ahsan of Supreme Court was appointed to supervise the trial court’s proceedings.

However, meeting the Supreme Court deadline has become a Herculean task for the outgoing accountability judge especially as the NAB has filed the supplementary references in Al-Azizia and Flagship Investment cases a few days ago. On the other hand, despite a number of foreign tours, the Bureau has yet to obtain evidence from the United Kingdom, UAE and Saudi Arabia where the Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) requests were sent several months ago. According to schedule of hearing, the court has yet to hear over two dozen prosecution witnesses beside the unknown number of defence witnesses before arriving at a decision.

NAB sources said Judge Muhammad Bashir may not be able to announce the decision in Nawaz Sharif cases before March 12 and it is widely believed that the references may go to a new accountability court judge. The new judge for accountability court will be appointed by the president after receiving nominations from the Chief Justice of Islamabad High Court. According to experts, the process of appointment will take at least a couple of weeks. Under the procedure defined in the NAB Ordinance, the chief justice of the relevant high court sends nominations for the accountability court judges to the Ministry of Law and Justice which forwards the summary to the prime minister to forward to the president for appointment.

According to the law, the nominated judge “shall be a serving District and Sessions Judge qualified to be appointed as Judge of the High Court”.

Experts believe although the new judge is likely to use the existing record and evidence for his judgment, may take a few extra days or weeks in understanding the key points of case before announcing the final decision.