December 22, 2023
ISLAMABAD – The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday dismissed ex-premier Imran Khan’s petition seeking the suspension of the trial court verdict in the Toshakhana case.
On August 5, a trial court in Islamabad had found the PTI chief guilty of “corrupt practices” in a case pertaining to concealing details of state gifts and sentenced him to three years in prison. Shortly after, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had disqualified Imran for five years.
On August 29, the IHC had suspended Imran’s three-year sentence in the Toshakhana case. Subsequently, Imran had approached the IHC seeking suspension of the trial court verdict.
The order issued today by a two-member bench of the IHC comprising Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com said that Imran’s application was not maintainable and was dismissed.
The order said that during the arguments, Imran’s lawyers had contended that the judgement be suspended under Section 426 (suspension of sentence pending appeals) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) on the basis that the ECP had issued a notification disqualifying Imran. It further said that Imran’s counsels had argued that the court had the jurisdiction to suspend the judgement under this provision.
However, the judgement said that Section 561 (inherent powers of the court to save the ends of justice) of the CrPC could be invoked to “correct error or prevent the abuse of process of the court or to secure the ends of justice”.
“Bare reading of the application for suspension filed by the appellant shows that it was for suspension of the sentence only,” it said. It said that the main grounds for seeking rectification was the ECP’s notification disqualifying Imran.
“This court was informed that challenge to the notification has already been made before the Lahore High Court by way of a constitutional petition in which notices have been issued. Moreover, notification was in the field when application for suspension was made, however, no reference was made to it nor it was pleaded in the application that remedy of suspension of conviction be also granted,” the court order said.
It said that a “specific application” for the suspension of the verdict was made under a “specific provision of law i.e. section 426 CrPC and relief was sought which was granted, however, now an extraordinary relief is being sought by way of a general provision of law i.e. section 561-A CrPC”.
It said Imran had invoked a specific provision in his petition but did not “specifically pray in the same for suspension of the conviction”.
IHC issues notice to FIA on Imran’s plea against in-camera trial in cipher case
Earlier in the day, the IHC had issued a notice to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on a petition moved by Imran challenging in-camera proceedings of the cipher trial at Adiala Jail.
The former premier, in his plea filed a day ago, had challenged his trial in jail and subsequent developments, including the framing of charges and a gag order on the media.
The Special Court (Official Secrets Act) had begun the cipher trial afresh last week at the Adiala district jail after Imran and former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi were indicted for a second time in the case on Dec 13.
The cipher case pertains to a diplomatic document that the Federal Investigation Agency’s charge sheet alleges was never returned by Imran. The PTI has long held that the document contained a threat from the United States to oust Imran as prime minister.
The former premier and his aide Qureshi, who is also behind bars, were first indicted in the case on Oct 23. Both had pleaded not guilty. The trial was being held at Adiala Jail and four witnesses had already recorded their statements when the IHC termed the government’s notification for a jail trial “erroneous” and scrapped the entire proceedings.
The IHC had endorsed Imran’s indictment, disposing of his plea against the same, but had also instructed the special court judge to ensure a “fair trial”.
On Dec 20, the IHC issued a detailed judgement explaining reasons for scrapping the earlier round of proceedings of the special court due to a lack of transparency and openness. The court linked the open court proceedings with the independence of the judicial system.
Today, Imran’s legal counsel Barrister Salman Akram Raja appeared in court as Justice Miangul Hasan Aurangzeb began hearing the petition. Additional Attorney General Munawar Iqbal Duggal also in attendance.
At the outset, Raja contended that the prosecution had levelled a single allegation and did not provide any explanation to support their demand.
He highlighted that the special court had rejected bail for former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the cipher case and instructed that the trial be completed in for weeks.
Here, Justice Aurangzeb questioned whether the stipulated four weeks were indeed granted for trial completion, seeking clarification from the additional attorney general.
“We do not give a period of four weeks even in simple cases,” the judge remarked.
For his part, Imran’s counsel emphasised that IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq had stated in his verdict that the trial must be finalised within four weeks. “The trial court is conducting daily proceedings in the case,” he further said.
“Is the judge suggesting that the indictment, if it has occurred, should not be disclosed to the public?” Justice Aurangzeb inquired.
In his response, Imran’s counsel said, “The trial court judge has ordered that no information regarding the case be disclosed or discussed.” He added that the judge had specifically directed that relatives of the suspect should refrain from discussing the proceedings anywhere.
Raja added that the trial court, in its verdict, referred to this as a “direction case”.
At that, the judge sought clarification on the meaning of a “direction case”. Justice Aurangzeb subsequently summoned the attorney general on Friday.
During the hearing, Imran’s counsel also formally requested the court to grant a stay in the case. However, the court did not immediately accept the plea and issued a notice to the FIA to submit its response on the matter.
Justice Aurangzeb asserted that the court would prefer to hear the attorney general’s statement on the matter as well. The hearing was later adjourned till Friday.