The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday said it was allowing the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo one more chance to surrender himself by appearing before the court by September 10.
A two-member bench of the IHC, comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani passed the remarks while hearing a petition filed by former prime minister seeking exemption from hearing on medical grounds in appeals pertaining to the Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship Investment references.
"We are not declaring Nawaz Sharif an absconder," said Justice Amir Farooq. "We are giving him an opportunity to surrender before the court."
The court directed the federal government to present a report on his health and adjourned proceedings of the petition till September 10.
At the start of the hearing, Nawaz Sharif’s counsel, Khawaja Haris, told the bench that his client’s bail was approved after the suspension of his sentence in the Avenfield reference. He added that the PML-N supremo got a conditional bail in the Al-Azizia reference.
“The current status of Nawaz Sharif is that he is not out on bail. This is a legal position that he is not on bail,” Haris told the court.
The lawyer informed the court that the former prime minister had gone out of the country for medical treatment. He added that his client’s plea to extend the bail was rejected when he was abroad.
Harris told the court that multiple medical boards, including private and government, were formed regarding the elder Sharif’s illness. He added that they recommended that the former premier be sent abroad for medical treatment. He also told the court that the reasons for the former prime minister to not return to the country were also mentioned in the plea.
“Shouldn’t have Nawaz Sharif surrendered to the court after the expiry of his bail,” the court asked the PML-N supremo’s lawyer.
To this, Harris informed the bench that his client’s case was “unique” and he will give a “detailed briefing on why his client did not surrender before the court”.
He added that the illness that Nawaz Sharif had could not be treated in Pakistan.
The lawyer informed the court that they had approached the Lahore High Court (LHC) for the removal of Nawaz Sharif’s name from the Exit Control List (ECL). “An undertaking was given that Nawaz would return to Pakistan once he recovers,” he said.
“Nawaz Sharif was allowed to go abroad once on medical grounds,” said Haris.
Upon this, Justice Farooq intervened and observed that Nawaz Sharif's bail was “conditional and was applicable for a “specific period”.
Haris then informed the court that his client's medical reports were submitted to the Punjab government but his request to extend the bail was rejected.
“When did Punjab government reject the request to extend the bail?” asked the court. To this, Haris informed that the provincial government had rejected the request on February 27.
If LHC ordered the removal of name from the ECL then [does] this mean that the Al-Azizia sentence [has been] finished,” asked the court. It added that IHC had suspended the sentence for a “specific time period”.
“After the LHC order can the IHC order be superseded?” questioned the court.
While Justice Kayani asked Nawaz Sharif’s lawyer if the Punjab government had shared all the documents related to the case.
“We have submitted a report on this to the registrar of the high court,” responded Haris to the judge’s query. He also added that neither the federal government nor any high commission reviewed Nawaz Sharif’s medical reports.
“Is Nawaz Sharif admitted in a hospital?” asked Justice Kayani. To this, Haris responded saying that by not being admitted in the hospital does not mean that the former premier is not under treatment in London.
“We are concerned about the bail,” Justice Farooq told the lawyer. He added that matter regarding Nawaz’s name on ECL was in the LHC. The bench was looking into the matter of bail and suspension of sentence, the judge remarked.
“The order of this court will also affect the LHC verdict,” observed Justice Farooq.
Haris, then told the court that Nawaz’s latest medical reports had also been received and will be submitted after being verified by the Foreign Office.
While Justice Kayani observed that the hearing on the appeal will move forward if Nawaz Sharif appears before the court.
“Are you saying that hearing should be held in the presence of a representative?” the judge asked pointing towards Nawaz’s counsel. He also asked whether Nawaz’s legal team had challenged the Punjab government order.
“We did not challenge that order and reason for that is given in the application,” responded Haris, adding that his client was not in the country which is why the order was not challenged.
“The federal government was supposed to get Nawaz Sharif’s health checked through the high commission,” he argued.
“What is the federal government’s stance on Nawaz Sharif’s health?” the court then asked the Deputy Attorney General Arshad Kayani.
“I did not receive any directives,” responded the federal government lawyer. To this, Justice Kayani said that the federal government should have known as it had to tell the court.
Haris, then told the court that Nawaz Sharif’s treatment was ongoing and he would return once it is completed.
“There is nothing on record that would suggest if Nawaz Sharif’s treatment was going on or not,” the court noted. The lawyer then said that the federal government had taken no steps to review Nawaz Sharif’s health.
“If Nawaz Sharif is a fugitive then there can be a separate sentence of three years,” observed Justice Kayani.
“We are not declaring Nawaz Sharif a fugitive right now,” said Justice Farooq. He also asked Nawaz’s lawyer to present his arguments on how the appeal can be heard without Nawaz Sharif’s presence.
To this, Haris responded saying that he has already submitted a medical certificate and will submit another as well. He added that the court can give a verdict by looking at all the facts.
Justice Farooq said that they will also take NAB’s stance on the matter. He also added that there was another question that if Nawaz Sharif’s appeal was dismissed without his presence then what would happen.
“If the court declares Nawaz Sharif a fugitive then what will be the status of the appeal,” asked Justice Farooq.
Haris then told the court that if Nawaz does not return on purpose then the court can declare him a fugitive.
NAB opposes non-appearance of Nawaz Sharif
NAB Prosecutor General Jahanzeb Bharwana in his arguments opposed the appeal filed by Nawaz against his exemption of appearance. He pointed to the court that both the appeals were not fit for a hearing.
“A detailed undertaking should be taken [from Nawaz Sharif] along with the appeals,” said Bharwana. He added that the failure of the former prime minister to appear before the court was absconding.
“If your point of view is accepted then what will happen to both the appeals?” asked Justice Farooq from the NAB’s representative. He also asked if the PML-N supremo can appear through his representative in the appeals.
“If Nawaz Sharif becomes a fugitive then the court can appoint a representative,” the NAB official said. He added that the court should declare on merit if Nawaz was a fugitive after hearing the accountability watchdog.
“Punjab government’s order to dismiss Nawaz Sharif’s bail has not been challenged anywhere,” the NAB lawyer told the court.
However, the court rejected the NAB’s request to declare the former prime minister fugitive. It added that they will give a date to the former prime minister to surrender.
“We will not declare Nawaz Sharif a fugitive. We will give one chance to Nawaz Sharif to surrender,” remarked Justice Farooq.
The bench then adjourned the hearing till September 10 and asked the former premier to appear before it on that date.