July 11, 2017

Options before three-member bench in Panama case Options before three-member bench in Panama case

ISLAMABAD: Regardless of the recommendations of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), the Supreme Court will conclusively rule on this report, possibly on the lines specified in the April 20 judgment in the Panama case. Two likely decisions were indicated in the main verdict. One, in the light of the JIT findings the three-member bench may initiate proceedings for disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. In this connection, it was held that upon receipt of the reports, periodic or final of the JIT, as the case may be, the matter of the premier’s disqualification shall be considered and if found necessary for passing an appropriate order in this behalf, he or any other person may be summoned and examined. Obviously, the prime minister and any other person will be called by the court and examined. This stage will come on the conclusion of the hearings that the court will initiate on July 17. The second decision hinted in the April 20 verdict is that the court may pass an order for filing a reference against the prime minister and any other person having nexus with the crime, if justified on the basis of the material brought on the record before it. It is in the court’s discretion to rely on or reject the conclusion of the JIT: failure on the part of respondents to produce the requisite information confirming “known sources of income” is prima facie tantamount to not being able to justify assets and means of income. Obviously, if the court absolutely believed these findings, the premier will be disqualified; if it had doubts about it, the matter will be sent to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for further investigation or a reference may be sent to an accountability court, and if it did not trust the report at all, the respondents will remain unhurt. However, it is clear that if the matter was forwarded to the NAB for further inquiry or a reference was filed in the accountability court for trial, the case will go on for an unspecified time. The voluminous JIT findings are undoubtedly just a report like conclusions prepared by an investigative agency, police or any other department. It is for the court to adjudicate upon it. The decision of the special bench to provide copies of the JIT report to the concerned parties and hear their arguments after a week demonstrated that the panel chose to hold a regular hearing on the matter. The determinations of the three-member bench on Monday on receipt of the JIT report made certain points and confusions clear, which were being publicly discussed before its presentation. One, the impression that the previous five-judge panel or a larger bench will be seized with the matter after the production of the JIT report before the apex court stood nailed as the implementation bench has initiated proceedings on it. Two, the widely-mentioned assertion that the judgment on the basis of the JIT findings will be handed down immediately on their receipt also turned out to be false. Three, it became known by the decision of the three-member bench headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan that this panel will adjudicate upon the JIT report. Four, the findings will not be kept secret. Fifth, full-fledged proceedings will be held on the JIT report to arrive at a decision. On the request of JIT head Wajid Zia, the bench ruled to keep secret the tenth volume of the report relating to the mutual assistance with foreign countries. No reason was given behind the JIT chief’s request. While its contents are unknown, it is believed that findings might be related to some vital facts. However, if the court makes this volume the basis of any decision that it may prefer to take, there is a strong possibility that this part of the report may also be shared with the respondents so that they can give their side of the story. Irrespective of the decision the special bench will finally take, it appears that there is nothing in the JIT findings for the prime minister to rejoice. This was also abundantly reflected from the initial hard-hitting reaction of the cabinet ministers, who totally rejected the conclusions, dubbing them as the “PTI report”. Additionally, their resolve to vigorously attack and challenge the report at every forum showed that it is unambiguously against them and they will fight back utilizing all their energies. In the beginning, the scramble will take place before the three-member bench. However, it is unclear who will defend the report inside the court when it will be called into question. Believably, the JIT members may be called if and when required to defend their findings. In any case, the PTI will come to the defence of the report although it has been prepared by the investigation team.



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