The recent acquittal of Nawaz Sharif in the Avenfield case has not only provided a boost to the former Prime Minister but has also raised questions about the Supreme Court’s role in overseeing the trial, particularly during the tenure of former Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar.
Prominent legal experts are calling for self-reflection within the judiciary, emphasizing the need to move away from perceptions of political bias and manipulation against specific parties or leaders. They are urging the superior courts to learn from any perceived mistakes.
Observers are now closely watching whether Nawaz Sharif’s exoneration will impact ongoing cases involving Imran Khan, his successor and main rival. The Islamabad High Court is set to review a petition seeking Imran’s acquittal in the Toshakhana case.
The written order from the Panama case, authored by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, had recommended the Chief Justice of Pakistan nominate a judge to oversee the judgment’s implementation and monitor NAB proceedings.
In response, former CJP Saqib Nisar appointed Justice Ijazul Ahsan as the monitoring judge, but the order lacked clarity on the supervision’s parameters. Sharif’s counsel argued that this oversight would compromise a fair trial, as the Supreme Court had become the complainant, prosecutor, and judge.
The Supreme Court, while rejecting Nawaz Sharif’s review petition, stated that the power to superintend the proceedings of the accountability court had not been conferred on the Supreme Court. However, the nomination of a judge for supervision was a long-standing practice to ensure the proceedings’ diligence.
In 2017, the Islamabad Accountability Court-I judge rejected Nawaz’s application to combine three references against him for a joint trial. Yet, the Supreme Court allowed an unrealistic four-week extension for the accountability court’s move in June the following year, just before the 2018 general election.
After the 2018 elections, the Islamabad High Court suspended the Avenfield reference judgment, granting bail to Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, and Captain Safdar. However, the Supreme Court expressed dissatisfaction with the high court’s observations against the trial court order.
The Islamabad High Court’s delay in addressing the appeals of the Sharif family led to the matter reaching the Supreme Court for resolution. Presently, most judges from the Panama bench have retired, and the dynamics of powerful circles appear to have shifted, seemingly supporting Nawaz Sharif.
Senior lawyers believe that the Panama jurisprudence significantly damaged the reputation of certain judges previously highly regarded in society.