Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) released a judgment on a question that has unfortunately become relevant in our political arena: would a video of judge allegedly admitting to blackmail, released by the daughter of the man the judge convicted, be admissible as evidence? Political actors from across the spectrum waited for the verdict to see what the SCP would declare. Sharif’s political opponents expressed outrage that the video was doctored and that the judiciary’s sanctity was being compromised. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), on the other hand, pinned their hopes on the SCP admitting the video as evidence and setting aside Nawaz Sharif’s conviction.

Unfortunately for the PML-N, the SCP did not set aside Sharif’s conviction. The Court decided that it was not the relevant forum to attend to questions regarding the video’s validity and firmly stated that this issue should be decided by the Islamabad High Court (IHC), where the appeal of Sharif’s conviction case lies. According to criminal procedure law, an appellate court can take additional evidence on its own if the appellate court deems it necessary- basing its premise on this law, the SCP concluded that it was the IHC’s discretion on whether it felt it necessary to admit the video into evidence.

Was this judgement then a complete loss for the PML-N? While the party leaders may think so, it does not have to be interpreted that way. The Court has left the decision up to the IHC- it is entirely possible that the IHC may admit the video into evidence if it finds it valid, and set aside Sharif’s conviction. While many may be disappointed with the SCP’s restraint in this case, a controlled approach was required in such a sensitive matter. It would not do if this case became even more politicised than it is already- the Court did what the judiciary is supposed to do- define legal parameters for the admissibility of evidence available because of modern devices i.e. the contentious video, and leave the merits of the case to the forum which has the jurisdiction.

It must be noted that the writer of the judgment, Chief Justice Asif Khosa, very harshly denounces Judge Arshad Malik, stating that his conduct “stinks and the stench of such stinking conduct has the tendency to bring bad name to the entire judiciary as an institution”. While this worded castigation of the judge’s conduct may not have led to the SCP to decide Sharif’s case on its merits, the condemnation will hold weight in the eyes of the IHC and the public.