LHC full bench to hear Maryam’s passport return plea

Chief Justice Bhatti will head three-member bench to hear the plea tomorrow

The Lahore High Court on Monday constituted a full bench for the hearing of a petition filed by PML-N Vice-President Maryam Nawaz seeking return of her passport surrendered earlier in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case.

A three-member full bench headed by Chief Justice Muhammad Ameer Bhatti and comprising Justice Ali Baqir Najfi and Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh will take up the petition tomorrow. The development took place after Justice Anwaarul Haq Pannu of the LHC last week recused himself from hearing of the petition of Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of former three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, citing personal reasons.

It is the fourth time since April the LHC bench was dissolved. Maryam Nawaz had surrendered her passport before the LHC deputy registrar in compliance with the court orders after she was granted post-arrest bail in Chaudhry Sugar Mills Limited (SCML) case. Formed in April, the first division bench led by Justice Syed Shahbaz Ali Rizvi sent the petition to the chief justice, refusing to hear it, recommending it should be fixed before any other bench.

Justice Anawaarul Haq Pannu was another member of the bench. On it, the CJ sent the petition to another division bench comprising Justice Ali Baqir Najfi and Justice Farooq Haider. The latter, however, refused to hear the plea for personal reasons, leading to the bench dissolution for the second time. Justice Ali Baqir Najfi and Justice Asjad Javed Ghural were the members of the third division bench. But this time Justice Ghural recused himself, citing personal reasons.

Last time, it was the LHC division bench comprising Justice Ali Baqir Najfi and Justice Sardar Ahmed Naeem which was hearing her case but Maryam Nawaz through her counsel withdrew the petition, pleading that she would make her submission through another petition. Justice Sardar Ahmed Naeem later retired. Previously, she made a plea that she wanted one-time permission for six weeks to perform Umrah in Saudi Arabia. In her fresh petition filed before the fifth bench, she made a plea for return of passport on humanitarian grounds.

According to the latest plea, she said: “As per record, the inquiry was initiated on November 14, 2018, but no reference was filed against her as of today despite a lapse of about four years.” The retention of the passport, she pleaded, for an indefinite period is tantamount to being violative of her fundamental rights of treatment in accordance with the law, life, liberty, right of movement and equal protection of the law.

She submitted through her lawyer that on August 8, 2019, when she was visiting her father at the Central Jail Lahore, she was arrested in an inquiry initiated by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and was barred from completing her visit. She also said that her physical custody was remanded to an investigating officer for 48 days after being sent to judicial lockup and later she was allowed post-arrest bail on merits by the Lahore High Court. The petitioner also informed the court that she had surrendered her passport and deposited the required amount of Rs70 million.

Maryam said she was unable to exercise her fundamental rights for the last four years despite the absence of any charge sheet or trial and she obeyed the court orders. “There may not be any apprehension of absconding or otherwise in view of the track record of the petitioner who, notwithstanding a conviction order against her, voluntarily came back to Pakistan to surrender to the process of law while leaving behind her ailing mother on death bed,” said Maryam.

She also settled principles of administration of criminal justice system as also fundamental rights due process and fair trial guaranteed, vide Article 10-A of the constitution, a presumption of innocence is imperative and even under trial [the] accused does not lose fundamental rights of treatment.

Fida Hussnain is a correspondent covering judiciary, politics, business and health issues. He is also a feature writer and researcher with major work on freedom of press in Pakistan. He tweets @fidahassanain and can be reached at fidahassanain@gmail.com.