By Hamza Azhar Salam
LAHORE: Last week, Maryam Nawaz again approached the Lahore High Court (LHC) for the return of her passport which she had surrendered before the LHC Deputy Registrar after she had been granted post-arrest bail in the Chaudhary Sugar Mills Limited (CSML) case nearly four years ago after furnishing of surety bonds in the sum of Rs.10 million each from two sureties with the trial court and separately depositing Rs.70 million with the LHC Deputy Registrar.
The Honourable High Courts routinely decry actions of the Executive as “arbitrary and capricious”. But what term do we use when multiple judges of an Honourable High Court recuse themselves from a case by simply citing but not disclosing ‘personal reasons’?
However, Justice Anwaar-ul-Haq Pannun, a member of the division bench (again) recused himself from hearing the petition for the return of her passport; and following Justice Anwar’s recusal, the head of the bench Justice Ali Baqar Najafi sent the file back to the chief justice of the LHC to reconstitute the Bench yet again.
That the record shows that this was the fourth time a judge of LHC (and second time for Justice Anwaar-ul-Haq Pannun) had recused himself from hearing the case: On 21 April, 2022, when a bench comprising of Justice Shahbaz Rizvi and Justice Anwaar-ul-Haq Pannun was first constituted, Justice Anwaar-ul-Haq Pannun recused himself; then on 26 April, 2022, when another bench comprising of Justice Baqar Najafi and Justice Farooq Haider was constituted, Justice Farooq Haider recused himself. When he was replaced by Justice Asjad Ghural later on the same day, Justice Asjad Ghural also recused himself.
That no reference or any investigation report final or interim has been filed by the NAB before a Court of competent jurisdiction despite lapse of nearly four years since the authorization of the inquiry; that the condition as to surrender of passport is alien to statutory requirements of the Code of Criminal Procedure to enlarge an accused on bail; that even otherwise, the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999 does not contain any provision restricting an accused’s right to travel abroad unlike other special laws such as Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997; that the accused has already furnished more than adequate surety and separately deposited Rs. 70 million; that it is settled law that mere registration of a case or institution of criminal proceedings does not automatically imply that the accused should be disallowed to move outside Pakistan; that there may not be any apprehension of abscondance in view of the track record of the petitioner who notwithstanding a conviction in her absence in 2018, voluntarily came back to Pakistan to surrender to the process of law while leaving behind her ailing mother on her death bed – are apparently all pleas that do not merit a hearing.
The bench will of course be reconstituted. But if the composition is based on political leanings and the junior judge may once again recuse himself without explanation and essentially deny relief without actually passing an order, what good is it?
It is worth remembering that high profile cases are test cases. They illuminate and exemplify the workings of the justice system and their outcomes become the yardstick to measure the fairness of our Courts. The Honourable Courts currently appear to be failing this test and their sanctity is being called into question; and if this charade needlessly continues, it will undoubtedly drag the Honourable Courts into disrepute.