ISLAMABAD:

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) issued on Tuesday non-bailable arrest warrants for former prime minister Nawaz Sharif for September 22 and initiated proceedings to declare him an absconder.

The IHC also rejected Nawaz's request to further the proceedings without him surrendering.

A special two-member bench headed by IHC Justice Amir Farooq heard appeals against Nawaz’s conviction in Avenfield and Al-Azizia references.

The court observed that despite orders from the IHC, former premier did not return to Pakistan on Tuesday and surrender before the court in Al-Azizia reference.

National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) appeals in Al-Azizia and Flagship Investment references and petition regarding cancellation of bail in Avenfield reference were also heard.

During the proceedings, Justice Farooq remarked that NAB's application for cancellation of Nawaz’s bail was being put on hold for now.

“First we will listen to Khawaja Harris's [ Nawaz’s lawyer] arguments then we will listen to NAB's application,” the judge said. “We have to decide whether we can hear Nawaz Sharif's appeal or not”

Referring to former president Pervez Musharraf's case, counsel Harris said that in the case related to the investigation into the former's assets, his lawyer was allowed to appear before the court.

“Therefore, in exceptional circumstances, the accused's lawyer can be allowed to appear instead of the accused himself,” Harris argued. “In a high-treason case, the special court had declared General Pervez Musharraf an absconder. Despite it, the Supreme Court heard his lawyer.”

He added that that the trial cannot be stopped on the basis of non-appearance of the accused. The court could appoint a public prosecutor for the accused and proceed with the trial. As of now, Nawaz Sharif cannot appear before the court," Sharif's counsel further stated.

Counsel Harris also referred to the Supreme Court’s (SC's) Hayat Baksh case of 1981, stating that the SC had formulated a procedure for the declared absconder.

“Describe the unusual circumstances that you think apply to your case,” the court inquired.

The SC heard the plea of ​​the fugitive accused of various reasons, counsel Harris said. "Nawaz Sharif's case is similar as he spent time in jail after his conviction and filed an appeal," he added.

The court has to now decide whether Nawaz Sharif is an absconder, argued Harris.

“In the case you referred to the accused had escaped from jail,” Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani said.

Nawaz’s counsel prayed that it was a more serious crime in which the appeal of the accused was decided on merit.

The court asked Sharif counsel if he wanted the court to defer the hearing of the appeals, or they should be heard in the absence of Nawaz Sharif. To this, Harris replied that he wanted to defer the hearings.

“You are saying that even if Nawaz Sharif is declared a fugitive, the court should decide his appeals on merit,” the court asked.

Counsel Harris replied that he had also requested that no action be taken if his client was absconding.

“You have made it very clear what your petition is,” the court observed. “Nawaz Sharif's bail in Al-Azizia reference is ineffective and he did not surrender before the court,”

During the hearing, additional NAB prosecutor general said that petitions filed by Nawaz Sharif were inadmissible.

“Let's assume that Nawaz Sharif's request came before he was declared an absconder," NAB prosecutor argued. “On this basis, even if it goes further, his application will be rejected as the basic rule is that the accused must surrender.”

“The fugitive accused can be sentenced to three years imprisonment under NAB ordinance,” the additional NAB prosecutor general said. “It is the responsibility of the person representing the accused to ensure the presence of the accused,” he argued.

The NAB prosecutor added that Nawaz Sharif was deliberately disobeying court orders, and that the court has the power to reject the fugitive's appeal or to appoint a lawyer for him.

“The court gave Nawaz Sharif two chances to surrender but he did not,” he said. “Giving relief to fugitives will affect the justice system,” the prosecutor argued.

The court inquired how it could hear NAB’s appeal without the presence of the accused. "Can the court decide without listening to the other side?" the judges asked.

“For this, the court can appoint a legal representative and hear it, NAB said. The court replied that then this principle would also apply to the other appeals of Nawaz Sharif.

Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani said that the person who took bail did not undergo any surgery nor was admitted to any hospital after going abroad.

"What should happen now that Nawaz Sharif's bail has finished? the court asked.

Former premier's counsel reiterated that his client is not a fugitive since he took permission from the government to go abroad.

“It is true that Nawaz Sharif's bail has expired,” said counsel Harris. “Now the only question is whether they are in a position to return to Pakistan or not. The issue of Nawaz Sharif's return is also being heard in the Lahore High Court,” he said.

The court remarked that the bail was for a specific period and this may not have been reported to the Lahore High Court.

"Why are you giving references to Nawaz's cases in LHC," the court remarked, adding, "plead the case which is at hand."

Counsel Harris replied that his client has provided a new medical certificate, according to which the former premier is not fit to return home.

"The NAB and the federal government did not present anything in denial of these medical certificates," the lawyer said. "If these certificates are undeniable then how can an order be issued against Nawaz Sharif," Harris asked.

To this, the court remarked that the medical certificates provided were of a consultant and not a hospital. It is unfortunate that all parties in Nawaz Sharif's case have made the matter suspicious, the IHC observed.

Counsel Harris prayed that Nawaz's treatment was hindered due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

On September 10, the IHC had decided to seek help on legal points before declaring former prime minister an absconder in Al-Azizia reference.

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