ISLAMABAD - A newly constituted five-member bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, will resume hearing in the Panamagate case from January 4.

Two changes have been made in the newly formed bench. Justice Ejaz Afzal has replaced former chief justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali while Justice Gulzar Ahmed has been inducted in place of Justice Amir Hani Muslim while Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan will remain part of the bench.

Justice Mian Saqib Nisar who took oath on Saturday as new chief justice of Pakistan has stayed away from the larger bench.

Opposition parties, particularly Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, had talked about the new chief justice’s ‘links’ with the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. Social media was also rife with gossip that Justice Amir Hani had held a meeting with PML-N Senator Nehal Hashmi and some TV channels also aired the news about the alleged meeting.

“On social media, pictures showing the purported meeting of Justice Saqib Nisar with Prime Minister Nawaz and President Mamnoon Hussain and that of Justice Hani with Senator Hashmi created doubts in the minds of the public. It is good that they are not part of the bench,” said Zulfiqar Bhutta advocate.

At the last hearing, the apex court had proposed to constitute a commission to investigate the allegations against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his children in the light of the Panama leaks. The former chief justice had held that if they declared a document of one party unauthentic or accepted the document of the other, the latter would contend it was not given the opportunity to contest. He said: “Therefore, we have proposed to set up a commission so that the parties should be given proper opportunity.”

Counsel for the prime minister and his children and the petitioners – Tariq Asad and Jamaat-e-Islami – had consented to the formation of the commission but Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Awami Muslim League led by Sheikh Rashid had opposed the proposal. The PTI even threatened to boycott the proceedings in case the commission was formed.

All the parties, including PTI, at the second hearing of the case, had given approval to the formation of a commission and also submitted their terms of reference.

The former bench, in its order, had said that a new bench would hear the petitions of the petitioners afresh.

The court on November 2 started hearing the petitions filed by PTI chief Imran Khan, AML chief Sheikh Rashid, JI chief Sirajul Haq and Tariq Asad advocate.

The petitioners also seek disqualification of the premier as, according to them, the Panama papers have revealed that the Sharif family has established offshore companies by siphoning off money from the country while evading taxes.

The five-member larger bench, under the former chief justice of Pakistan, had held some 10 sittings on the case and finally sought the parties to come up with their stance on constituting the judicial commission or not. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf wanted the apex court to decide the case instead of constituting a bench, but the government had left the matter at the discretion of the apex court.

Former chief justice justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, therefore, decided to leave the matter to the next chief justice to decide it afresh, scrapping the previous hearing in the case.

The apex court had taken up the matter a couple of days before the lockdown call of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf on November 2 and had fixed the hearing in the case on November 1.

A journalist, Asad Kharral, had also moved an application as an intervener with the request to seek replies from NAB to his April 25 petition before the bureau in which he had accused the prime minister and his family members of siphoning off Rs 100 billion by allegedly misusing authority.