News Analysis |
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has finally accepted a plea by the lawyers of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for an early hearing into his appeal against conviction in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills reference. A two-member IHC bench comprising Justice Amir Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kiani heard the plea on Wednesday, January 9 and instructed the court’s registrar to schedule a hearing into Nawaz’s appeal within ten days.
The former premier was convicted in Al-Azizia Steel Mills reference and sentenced to seven years in jail and a fine of PKR1.5 billion and USD25 million was imposed on him by an accountability court on December 24. Sharif was acquitted in the Flagship Investments reference. He was arrested from the court premises and taken directly to Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail to serve his sentence.
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On January 2, Nawaz’s legal team, led by Khawaja Haris, challenged the accountability court’s verdict in Al-Azizia case when they filed an appeal against the December 24 verdict. At the same time, the former prime minister sought that his sentence be suspended until the high court has decided his appeal.
However, the IHC registrar office raised an objection and returned the petition. Sharif’s lawyer resubmitted it the next day but the registrar office again raised administrative objections and returned it. The registrar’s office finally accepted the petition to enlist it on January 5.
A two-judge bench comprising IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Amir Farooq heard Sharif’s petitions on January 7 but postponed a hearing into his plea for suspension of sentence, observing the plea, which basically is a bail plea, cannot be heard before hearing into an appeal against the verdict.
Read more: What is the future of Nawaz Sharif?
This was in marked contrast to the Avenfield case in which both Nawaz and his daughter Maryam Nawaz were sentenced to 10 and seven years in jail respectively but the Islamabad High Court had suspended their sentences before deciding their appeals.
This time around the high court was more cautious while hearing the suspension plea because when it suspended the sentences in Avenfield case, the NAB challenged the IHC decision in the Supreme Court where though the NAB’s appeal is still pending adjudication the apex court passed some adverse comments about the IHC’s decision on suspension pleas. “How can the high court point out faults in evidence while giving a verdict on an appeal for bail? How about we nullify [IHC] verdict?” Chief Justice Saqib Nisar had asked while hearing the NAB appeal in November.
After it became clear that Nawaz could not come out of jail even on bail before hearing into his appeal against the conviction, his lawyers filed an application on Tuesday seeking an early hearing into Nawaz’s main appeal. The high court on Wednesday agreed to an early hearing and directed the court’s registrar to schedule a hearing within ten days. All this means Nawaz, who is incarcerated in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail, will stay there at least for another few weeks.