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August 24, 2020

Renewed official resolve to bring back ex-PM: What LHC ordered about Nawaz’s stay, return from abroad


August 24, 2020

ISLAMABAD: While there is a lot of political commotion on deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s continued stay in London with the federal government now resolving to use every instrument to secure his early return to Pakistan, it may be instructive to have a look at the Lahore High Court (LHC) order, passed nine months ago, which had allowed his foreign travel for treatment.

The November 16, 2019 order issued by a two-judge bench comprising Justice Ali Baqar Najafi and Justice Sardar Ahmad Naeem had said that the former premier “will return when certified by doctors that he has regained his health and is fit to return back to Pakistan.”

Legal experts opine that the judgment is time-bound but at the same time open-ended, in the sense of being subject to change in Nawaz Sharif’s foreign stay in view of his health condition.

They explained that although the former prime minister was granted one-time permission to travel abroad as an interim arrangement, the main plea in the petition filed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Shahbaz Sharif was accepted by the LHC.

Shahbaz Sharif’s undertaking, approved by and deposited with the LHC, had said: I undertake to facilitate and ensure return of my brother Nawaz Sharif within four weeks or as and when certified by doctors that he has regained his health and is fit to fly back home.

The LHC had initially granted four weeks to the ex-prime minister to get treatment, the same period that had been given to him by the government’s permission, attaching the condition of depositing Rs7.5 billion indemnity bond, which, however, was undone by the LHC. Thus, legal experts said, the LHC order did and didn’t specify the timeframe for Nawaz Sharif’s return as his flying back will depend on his health condition in the wake of his treatment aboard.

fjAs in one sense the LHC order was time-bound, it was difficult to predict or estimate by anybody how long doctors would take to certify that he has “regained his health and is fit to return to Pakistan”.

Shahbaz Sharif had also said in writing: “I further undertake to provide/send the periodical medical report of the doctor duly notarised by the [London] embassy to the registrar of this court. I also undertake that if at any stage, the federal government has credible information that Nawaz Sharif is living abroad despite his fitness to travel, a representative from Pakistan’s High Commission [London] would have a right to meet with his physician(s) to verify or confirm about his health.”

In a separate document signed by Nawaz Sharif, which was also submitted to the LHC, the former premier had bound himself to the undertaking given to the LHC by Shahbaz Sharif. He had stated: “I do hereby undertake to return to Pakistan as per my past record to face the process of law and justice within four weeks or as soon as I am declared healthy and fit to travel back to Pakistan by my doctors.”

Justice Najafi had remarked that in his opinion, it was not fair for the government to place conditions after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had granted bail to Nawaz Sharif. If the former prime minister’s health improves, the federal government’s board can examine him, he had stated.

Two days before the hearing at the LHC, the federal government, after intense deliberations, had granted a one-time permission to Nawaz Sharif for four weeks to travel abroad for treatment provided he submitted indemnity bonds worth over Rs7.5 billion. The condition was challenged in LHC by the PML-N legal team on behalf of the former premier.

In October, 2019, Nawaz Sharif was rushed to the Services Hospital from the Kot Lakhpat jail Lahore after his personal physician Dr Adnan Khan raised an alarm over his deteriorating health. Following this, Shahbaz Sharif had submitted a request to the interior ministry as well as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for the removal of Nawaz Sharif’s name from the Exit Control List (ECL) so that he could travel abroad for medical treatment.

The ex-premier, who was incarcerated after an accountability court found him guilty in a reference, had been granted eight-week bail by the IHC on humanitarian grounds. He had also obtained bail from the LHC in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case in which he was a suspect.

The IHC order that had given bail to Nawaz Sharif had said that in case his health does not improve and he needs further medical attention, the Punjab government may, on its own, decide the issue regarding suspension of the sentence. Even otherwise, he may approach the provincial government under Section 401(2) of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), it said.

The judgment had “noted with dismay” that despite its [previous] “observations” regarding different provisions of the CrPC and Pakistan Prisons Rules, the Kot Lakhpat Jail Superintendent, “never initiated or referred” the health matter for Nawaz Sharif’s release in spite of “his severe medical condition.”

The order had also said that since the jail superintendent was under the Punjab government, the inspector general, prisons, could have made recommendations to it for the former prime minister’s release on account of indisposition, and the government, on its own, could have suspended the sentence if it was believed that the circumstances so warranted.