ISLAMABAD - Chief Justice of Pakistan yesterday declined the government's request to form a “toothless” judicial commission to probe Panama Papers revelations.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last month sent a letter to the Supreme Court registrar, requesting that Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali constitute a judicial commission to investigate those Pakistanis whose names appeared in Panama leaks as well as those got their loans written off.

The opposition is at loggerheads with government over the issue and wants the probe to start from the premier and his family, as three children of the PM have also been found to be having offshore companies – in Virgin Islands.

“The formation of a commission under the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act 1956 (Act VI of 1956), looking to its limited scope will result in the constitution of a toothless commission, which will serve no useful purpose,” a letter sent by the SC registrar to law ministry read.

The letter, conveying CJP’s response to the government request, observes that the terms of reference (ToR) of the proposed commission (prepared and sent by the government along with its request) are so “wide and open” that “it may take years” for the commission to conclude proceedings.

Announcing the decision, CJP Jamali said in order for a commission to be formed, legislation will first have to be passed by the parliament. He added a judicial commission could not be formed until the issue of ToRs is resolved.

The Supreme Court asked the government to “reconsider and resolve the issue of formation of the commission under proper legislation” after which it will decide on the modalities of the inquiry commission.

The letter also says that “before forming an opinion as to the formation of the inquiry commission, it is necessary to have the list of all individuals, families, groups, companies... along with some relevant particulars, against whom purported inquiry proceedings are to be held...”

Throwing the ball back into government’s court, the letter said, “Unless such information and particulars are provided and the issue of formation of Commission under some proper legislation is reconsidered and resolved, no final response to your letter can be furnished.”

The government in its request had asked the court to investigate the involvement of Pakistani citizens, persons of Pakistan origin and legal entities in offshore companies in Panama or in any other country.

It also asked the apex court to probe the involvement of former and present holders of public office in writing off their own bank loans or those of their immediate family members through political influence; and, transfer from Pakistan of funds which have originated from corruption, commissions or kickbacks.

The government further asked the court to determine whether any law for the time being in force in Pakistan has been infringed and if that had happened then make recommendations to determine responsibility for such infringement.

Some legal minds say as far as the government ToRs are concerned the apex court has simply rejected them. Yet some others said the SC letter seems to be favouring the government as it asked for the lists of individuals, families, groups and companies against whom the proceedings have to be held.

Earlier, the opposition and the lawyers’ community had also rejected the government ToRs saying they are too wide and not in consonance with Section 3(1) of Pakistan Commission Inquiry Act 1956. It said an attempt has been made to delay the proposed inquiry or investigation and brush the matter under the carpet.

Minister of State for Law and Justice Barrister Zafarullah Khan shared with The Nation that they are studying the letter of the apex court and would later respond on the matter.

“The inquiry ToRs should specifically name the person or persons who are to be investigated through the proposed inquiry,” a legal expert said.

Supreme Court Bar Association President Barrister Ali Zafar said the apex court is right in saying that the commission formed as per government ToRs would be toothless because in the absence of new laws and the lists there would be no use of investigation.

He added: “It seemed that the top court has considered our ToRs in which we suggested that new laws be framed for the investigation of Panama leaks and the investigation should be done in phases.”

Pakistan Bar Council Vice-Chairman Farough Naseem feared that the Supreme Court letter would intensify the deadlock as it called for new laws and furnishing the lists of persons and firms to be probed.

Mr Naseem said as per the Bar Council resolution the Supreme Court should have converted the letter into suo moto, adding; “If the apex court couldn’t do it then leave it to us (PBC) and we shall file a petition under Article 184(3) of constitution. He said under Article 184(3) the top court has power to probe and punish.”

The Panama Papers trove shocked the world as names of top leadership of many countries including China, Britain, Russia and Pakistan appeared in them. The leaked data from the Mossack Fonseca law firm showed Nawaz Sharif’s sons Hassan and Hussain, and daughter Maryam, owned at least three offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his cabinet ministers say that the children of the PM have done nothing illegal, but opponents accuse the family of using the tax haven to launder stolen money and dodge taxes.