–Court removes govt’s condition, allows former premier to travel abroad for four weeks; duration can be extended on doctors’ recommendation
–Orders govt to remove Nawaz’s name from no-fly list without any conditions
LAHORE: In a major setback to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Saturday allowed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to travel abroad for four weeks without having to sign the indemnity bond suggested by the federal government, saying the duration could be extended on doctors’ recommendation.
As the government and Sharif brothers remained at an impasse over the terms of Nawaz Sharif’s travel abroad — specifically his return to Pakistan — the LHC said it would draft its own undertaking for the former premier’s travel and give to lawyers of both sides.
A two-judge bench, comprising Justice Ali Baqar Najafi and Justice Sardar Ahmad Naeem, heard the petition challenging the government’s condition of furnishing indemnity bonds in order to secure the removal of Nawaz’s name from the ECL.
During the hearing, Justice Najafi remarked that in his opinion, it was not fair for the government to place conditions after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had granted bail to Nawaz Sharif. If Nawaz’s health improves, the federal government’s board can examine him, the bench pointed out.
The hearing, which started at 11am, was adjourned multiple times.
A little after 1pm, the court had directed Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shehbaz Sharif to submit a written undertaking about the former prime minister’s travel abroad and his return.
Following the court’s directions, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) legal team submitted a handwritten draft of the undertaking by Nawaz, which stated: “I do hereby undertake to return to Pakistan […] to face the process of law and justice as soon as I am declared healthy and fit to travel to Pakistan by my doctors.”
A separate undertaking was submitted by Shehbaz in which he stated: “I undertake to facilitate return of my brother on certification by doctors that he has regained his health and is fit to return to Pakistan.”
The hearing was then adjourned until 2:30pm. When it resumed, Additional Attorney General (AAG) Chaudhry Ishtiaq A. Khan, representing the government, opposed the undertaking submitted and said it did not mention when Nawaz would leave Pakistan and when he would return.
He argued that the IHC had granted bail to Nawaz Sharif for a specific time period.
The counsel contended that to ensure the return of Nawaz Sharif, the condition of indemnity bond was placed. He demanded that the petitioners provide a time frame for Nawaz’s return.
Khan said that the government had prepared a draft in response to the ones by Nawaz and Shehbaz, under which the government will be able to send, when it deems fit, a medical board abroad to establish whether the former premier could travel or not.
The court clarified that the doctors in United Kingdom would be treating Nawaz while the government’s board will do a check up to determine his fitness for travel.
The court suggested to mention in Nawaz’s draft that his medical reports would also be shared with the government.
Nawaz Sharif can submit the bonds to the court and not the government, if he wants, the counsel added. The bond is not currency, they are just papers of ownership, he said.
Earlier, the bench asked PML-N President Shehbaz, who was in court for the hearing, if he was willing to guarantee that Nawaz will return. To this, Shehbaz said: “God will bring him back.”
PML-N lawyer Amjad Pervez told the court that Nawaz had returned to Pakistan for the proceedings of the corruption references filed against him by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). He insisted that the former premier “respects the law”.
Pervez further said that the IHC had suspended Nawaz’s sentence and argued: “The government cannot interfere while the matter is in the court.”
The court asked Nawaz’s lawyer if the former premier was willing to submit anything as surety. The bench allowed PML-N’s legal team to discuss the matter with Nawaz and adjourned the proceedings for 15 minutes, after which the lawyers held consultations with Shehbaz in the courtroom.
In the first half of the hearings, the bench had asked AAG Khan if the memorandum by the Interior Ministry was “issued on humanitarian basis”.
Khan said that the federal government was aware that the Nawaz’s condition was “precarious”, adding that the PML-N supremo was granted permission by the court to travel abroad for medical treatment. He argued that the condition of furnishing an indemnity bond was added in order to “satisfy the court”.
“We imposed conditions to uphold the writ of the court,” Khan insisted and said that “if the former prime minister wants to go abroad for treatment, he can go for a specified period of time”.
“The court granted a bail of eight weeks to Nawaz Sharif,” he said and added: “If Nawaz Sharif wants to go abroad for treatment, he can go, but first he has to satisfy the court.
“If the court is satisfied, we (the government) have no objections.”
“If Nawaz Sharif does not want to submit the bonds to the government, then he can submit them to court,” the AAG said.
“We will ask Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif to submit a written undertaking. The federal government can review it,” the bench said. “This undertaking will be submitted in court; if the undertaking is not upheld then the law of contempt of court is available.”
“The government is also asking for a [written] undertaking,” Khan insisted. “So that legal action can be taken if Nawaz Sharif does not return.”
On Friday, the LHC had declared the petition as maintainable after hearing the arguments of PML-N’s legal team and the respondents.
The government had argued that the petition was not within the jurisdiction of the LHC. The argument was rejected by the bench, which relied upon superior courts’ judgements cited by PML-N’s legal team and observed that the petition was maintainable before the LHC.
“The arguments advanced by the learned additional attorney general that the conditions mentioned in the impugned memorandum are based upon the judgement pronounced by the accountability court, Islamabad, and challenged before the Islamabad High Court, therefore, this court lacks jurisdiction, has not impressed us,” said the bench in its three-page short verdict.
On Wednesday, the PTI government, after much deliberation, had granted a one-time permission to Nawaz for four weeks to travel abroad for his treatment provided he submitted indemnity bonds worth over Rs7.5 billion.
The condition was challenged in LHC by the PML-N legal team, on behalf of the former premier, on Thursday and was taken up by the two-member bench on the same day.
Nawaz, who was diagnosed with an immune system disorder, has been advised to go abroad for medical treatment. The former premier is convicted in two corruption cases and is a suspect in another.