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Justice delayed, justice denied

When former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi announced July 25 as the Election Day 2018, the mystery was why (1) he gave only 60 days instead of the 90 days that he could and (2) why he did not pay heed to the extremely hot weather of June and July which would not only make campaigning almost impossible but deter voters from coming out to vote? The third part of the puzzle fell into place when Khawaja Haris, the legal counsel for Mian Nawaz Sharif, withdrew from representing his client in the corruption references filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). That effectively threw a legal spanner in continuing the trial process of conviction of the Sharif family in three corruption references in the accountability court, accused of money laundering, tax evasion and hiding offshore assets. Add to that allegations of perjury, forgery, falsifying information, intimidating judges and investigating staff, etc.

Al Capone laughed his way out of dozens of his murder trials with witnesses not ready to testify against him. Ultimately when they got him on tax evasion, given the evidence, his legal counsel tried delaying tactics warding off the inevitable. Being an honourable man therefore Khawaja Haris’ pretexts for quitting being (1) Supreme Court’s (SC) rejection of his plea for an indefinite extension and (2) their directive to hold court proceedings on Saturdays and Sundays, is quite untenable at this late stage when he has only to make the closing arguments. In any case the SC left holding hearings on Saturdays to the accountability court’s discretion. The real reason is that the defence wants to avoid the SC court deadline of July 10 being too close to the Elections 2018 scheduled for July 25.

Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif has kept on doing what he has been doing best since his disqualification from holding public office. Accusing the Chief Justice of rushing through the hearings in the three corruption cases filed against him, he termed it an “extremely unfortunate” example of “oppression and injustice”. Even calling it “pre-poll rigging”, he claimed in a press conference on June 10 that his fundamental rights were being violated “as no lawyer will take up a case where he is not even allowed time to prepare and is asked to appear even on weekends.” Sharif opined it would not be easy to engage another lawyer at this stage; his contention that “such an environment is being created that I am deprived of a legal counsel as well” is quite ludicrous because it was his legal counsel who quit suddenly, the courts had nothing to do with this.

Politics in Pakistan is a family business with the top leadership usually hereditary and with questionable means to gain power by any and every means possible, this dirty game jeopardizes democracy. Anything goes is the name of the game, the Constitution is violated at the whims of individuals, the rule of law is trampled without batting an eyelid, institutions are ridiculed and not given their due respect, etc, etc. The sacrifices to be made or compromises thereof do not matter, in the end the road taken must either lead to absolute power or be instrumental in getting close to those wielding such power. On Pakistan’s independence we had leaders of the stature of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan and many others at the helm with exceptional qualities like honesty, integrity, sincerity and truthfulness. Barring honourable exceptions, today’s politicians care two hoots about the nation or national interests, their primary objective being to loot the nation and fill their own coffers. Hundreds of NAB cases of corruption, embezzlement, tax evasion, etc worth billions being looted involving politicians, government servants and businessmen, etc., prove this point.

Working as Sharif’s lawyer in all three cases filed against him and his family on September 8 following the former PM’s disqualification as the PM on July 28. Khawaja Haris is an experienced and competent counsel having a good reputation, dumping his client is rather unprofessional, not expected from a person of his stature. This of course unless it is callously deliberate, the calculated move being orchestrated out of ulterior motive, how can any advocate leave his client high and dry at this stage? All witnesses have recorded their statements and only the closing arguments are left. Other than the duty to his client, as an advocate Khawaja Haris is considered to be an officer of the court, an integral part of the court machinery for the administration of justice. If in case any advocate resorts to unfair or unreasonable means in a deliberate ploy to delay the process of justice, than he is not fulfilling his moral duty and obligations to his country. The legal code forbids any advocate from representing any client who might insist on using unfair or improper means, this could also include having to lie under oath, a punishable crime in most countries. He must also not deceive or knowingly or recklessly mislead the court.

The inevitable is being deliberately delayed so that the adverse verdict expected by the Sharifs in the face of their guilt comes after Election Day. Nawaz Sharif maligns judges of the superior judiciary as being “hand in glove with dictators over the last 70 years”, but does not once answer to the corruption charges against him despite his repeated tall claims on many forums, including the floor of the National Assembly, about possessing documentary evidence proving his innocence. His family members and party leaders have been publicly characterising the SC as being unfair, partisan, vindictive and revengeful. Not once during these public tirades mentioning the many counts of corruption against Nawaz, do they have any credible satisfactory explanation why the SC would be revengeful towards the Sharifs? Khawaja Haris’ withdrawal ploy is simply an attempt as a means of last resort.

While Nawaz Sharif’s camp is insisting that “justice hurried is justice buried”, attributed to both Gladstone and William Penn the real maxim is that “justice delayed is justice denied”. When legal remedy is not available in timely fashion, it is effectively denied. With more delaying tactics likely, will Pakistan again be denied justice?

Ikram Sehgal, "Justice delayed, justice denied," Business Recorder. 2018-06-15.
Keywords: Press conference , Public office , Moral duty , Documentary evidence , Under oath , Public tirades , Shahid Khaqan Abbasi , Khawaja Haris , Nawaz Sharif , Pakistan , NAB , PM , SC , 2018