Lahore     -    The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday allowed a writ petition filed against the government’s condition of furnishing indemnity bonds for the removal of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s name from the ECL.

A division bench consisting of Justice Sardar Ahmad Naeem and Justice Ali Baqar Najafi declared the plea filed by PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif admissible by rejecting the government’s stance. The bench directed to advance arguments and adjourned the hearing for today [Saturday].

Before the start of yesterday’s proceedings, Additional Attorney General (AAG) Chaudhry Ishtiaq A Khan filed the government’s reply.

The court then gave time to the petitioner’s counsel to read the 45-page reply in which the federal government opposed the request and raised question on the court’s jurisdiction to hear the petition.

The court was informed that cases against Nawaz Sharif were underway in different courts and his name was placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) on the recommendation of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

When the proceeding resumed after recess, petitioner’s counsel Amjad Pervez claimed that the LHC had the jurisdiction to hear the petition. He quoted different judgements and submitted their copies in the support their stance that Nawaz’s name could be taken off the ECL unconditionally.

He said the government could not deprive anyone of their fundamental rights and cited that former president Pervez Musharraf had been allowed to travel abroad for treatment.

However, the bench remarked that the reference of Musharraf’s case was irrelevant as he had not been convicted, unlike Nawaz, when his name was removed from the no-fly list.

Justice Ali Baqar Najafi observed that as per the record, NAB had left the entire matter pertaining Nawaz’s name on ECL to the federal government.

The petitioner’s counsel also added that that the accountability watchdog had in black and white admitted that the authority to add or remove names from the ECL rested with the federal government. After the NAB statement, the federal law minister had also asked it to again clarify its stance on the issue, Amjad maintained.

On the LHC’s jurisdiction issue, the government’s representative submitted that the names of Nawaz and his children had been placed on ECL in the Avenfield case after the apex court had ordered to file references against them.

He argued that the PML-N leader was awarded sentence by an accountability court in Islamabad and the appeal was also filed and being heard against the verdict in the Islamabad High Court (IHC). Therefore, he added, the request could only be heard by the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

The government representative further submitted that the federal government had not sought surety bonds, rather indemnity bonds, from the Sharif family. If Nawaz has reservations regarding submitting the indemnity bonds, he can approach the IHC, he said.

The court raised the point that the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case against Nawaz was being heard in Lahore. The AAG replied that a court in Karachi had refused to hear a petition challenging a NAB case filed elsewhere declaring it as non-maintainable.

Justice Najafi said that the current petition concerns an ECL issue and was about a man “who is very ill”.

After hearing the arguments, the high court reserved its judgement on the issue of admissibility of the PML-N petition.

On the question of maintainability of the petition, the court remarked “…it has been held that Federal Government functions in the provinces which confers the jurisdiction upon the Provincial High Courts to hear and adjudicate upon the matter.”

The order says, “Needless to observe that in the order passed by the Islamabad High Court while suspending the sentence of the petitioner (Nawaz Sharif) in Avenfreld reference in WP No. 3716 of 2019 on 29.10.2019, the matter has been referred to Government of Punjab for some further proceedings/actions.”

The order concludes, “In this view of the matter, we at this stage hold that this court has the jurisdiction to hear this matter.” The court admitted the petition for arguments and adjourned the hearing for today.

The PML-N believes that the government’s condition of furnishing indemnity bonds to put off the name of Nawaz Sharif from the ECL was not based on any provision of the law.

The condition had no legal standing since the petitioner had already been granted bail in the CSM case by a division bench of the LHC, and his sentence in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills reference has been suspended by the IHC, as per the Sharif family.

A PML-N legal team had filed the petition in the court as an urgent matter last Thursday with a request to fix it for a same-day hearing. The court took up the petition at around 4:30pm when AAG Ishtiaq Khan and NAB’s official Naeem Tariq Sanghera appeared before the court.