[Dawn 17 November 2019] LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Saturday allowed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to travel abroad initially for a period of four weeks, extendable on the basis of medical reports.
A two-judge bench announced the interim order at around 5:45pm following the marathon proceedings that started at 12:15pm in the presence of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Shahbaz Sharif and other party leaders.
The bench comprising Justice Ali Baqar Najafi and Justice Sardar Ahmad Naeem granted the permission mainly in the light of undertakings, with slight modifications, submitted on behalf of the Sharif brothers. The federal government’s counsel, however, opposed the draft of the undertakings arguing that there was no mention of any penalty in case of defiance.
The bench observed that the wrath of court in the form of contempt of court proceedings was adequate penalty for violation of a judicial order.
The undertaking by the ex-premier says: “I undertake to return to Pakistan as per my past record to face the process of law and justice within four (4) weeks or as soon as I am declared healthy and fit to travel back to Pakistan by my doctors. I also do hereby bind myself to the undertaking given by my brother Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif.”
The other undertaking, which came from Mr Shahbaz, says: “I do hereby undertake to ensure return of my brother Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, within four (4) weeks or as and when certified by doctors that he has regained his health and is fit to return to Pakistan. I further undertake to provide/send the periodical medical reports of the doctor duly notarised by the embassy to the registrar of this court.
“I also undertake that if at any stage, the federal government has credible information that Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif is living abroad despite his fitness to travel, a representative from Pakistan’s High Commission would have a right to meet his physician(s) to verify or confirm about his health,” read Mr Shahbaz’s undertaking.
At the outset of Saturday’s hearing, Additional Attorney General Ishtiaq A. Khan stated that the government would have no objection if the petitioner would furnish indemnity bonds in court, if the latter was not willing to submit them to the government.
Counsel for the ex-premier Amjad Pervez rejected the offer, explaining that the government demand was illegal as only the court had the power to impose the condition of indemnity bonds under the law.
The bench rose for a short break, asking the counsel to come up with considered response to the government’s proposal. When the bench reassembled, Mr Amjad narrated a brief history of Nawaz’s case to establish his bona fide conduct right from the filing of the references by the anti-graft watchdog against him to his conviction by the Islamabad accountability courts. He said Mr Nawaz was in the UK to attend his ailing wife but he returned to Pakistan along with his daughter Maryam Nawaz only to surrender before the law when the trial court handed down the conviction.
He said the Islamabad High Court (IHC), however, suspended the conviction in the Avenfield reference finding flaws in the trial court verdict. The IHC granted bail to Mr Nawaz subject to surety bonds to the tune of Rs500,000, he said. He argued that the government could not even suspend sentence of any convict or touch the matter of the Exit Control List (ECL) when the appeal against the sentence was still pending with court.
The counsel said bona fide of his client was already proven and he (Nawaz) was ready to submit an undertaking about his return as soon as his doctors allowed him.
“What would be the language of that undertaking?” Justice Najafi asked the lawyer. In the same breath, the judge also asked Mr Shahbaz about his role in bringing back his brother to the country.
“God will bring him back, Insha Allah,” remarked Mr Shahbaz, adding that he would go with his brother and also bring him back.
While opposing the point of undertakings, the AAG said the IHC was scheduled to hear Nawaz’s appeal against his conviction on Nov 25 and he was supposed to attend the hearing, unless exempted by the court.
However, he admitted, there was no denial to the past conduct of Nawaz. In fact, he explained, the government, too, was asking for an undertaking in the shape of indemnity bonds.
Justice Najafi observed that the bench wanted both sides to reach a consensus decision. The undertaking, if submitted, would be the words from a person who had been a three-time elected prime minister and also a chief minister of Punjab, he added.
In response to the draft submitted by the petitioner’s counsel, the AAG also filed a proposed draft for undertakings to be adopted on behalf of the Sharif brothers requiring Mr Shahbaz to pay the fine of Rs7.5 billion as imposed by the trial court in the references if the ex-premier failed to return. But the bench and the counsel for the petitioner did not find the proposed draft appropriate.
The bench observed that the condition of the indemnity bonds put by the government could not be entertained at this stage and the court would decide its legal fate in its decision on the main petition.
“We [also] do not expect the petitioner to undertake stipulated time for the return since it will be up to the doctors as to when they advise him to travel back,” observed the bench.
The bench formulated eight questions to be addressed by both sides on subsequent hearings of the case including whether the government had the jurisdiction to put condition of indemnity bonds after bail granted by courts or whether a convict’s name could be removed from the Exit Control List (ECL).
Allowing the stay application, the bench suspended the impugned condition for removal of names from the no-fly list and permitted both Nawaz and Shahbaz to go abroad initially for four weeks and extendable on the basis of medical reports, and adjourned hearing on the main petition till the third week of January 2020.
The law officer later told the media that any decision to challenge the court permission to Nawaz would be taken by the government after going through the written order.
Speaking to the media outside the court, Mr Shahbaz said an air ambulance would take Nawaz to London most likely on Sunday (today). He said he would accompany his elder brother.
He said they were going to London initially but they would move to any other country as per doctors’ advice. However, Maryam Nawaz would stay in Pakistan, he added.
Meanwhile, PML-N Information Secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said arrangements for Nawaz’s travel within 48 hours were under way. She said the party prayed for his speedy recovery.