Avenfield acquittal: Blind justice

Justitia—the Greek goddess of justice, symbolised in the familiar figure of Lady Justice—is blind. The scales in one of her hands decide a matter, and the sword in her other hand is quick to render the judgment. Justitia’s inability to see, ensures that she is neither impressed with the aura of the litigants, nor awed by their presence. But she hears them just fine, empathises with them from time to time, and can perceive the truth, before deciding each matter in a ‘just’ manner.
In Pakistan, sadly, Justicia’s impairments extend beyond just sight. She is blind, yes, but she is also deaf, intellectually sterile, oblivious to societal realities or plight of the people, and bereft of the larger sense of ‘justice’ that she embodies. Oh, and so long as no one summons the audacity to remind Justitia that she should be “ashamed” of some of certain things, she is also mute. And, as frequently as is possible, Justitia, in Pakistan, is happy to bending the arc of justice in a manner that protects dynastic entitlements. Because—and this is important—when Zeus took away her sight, he also robbed Justitia of her moral compass. After all, what use was it going to be, in the clerical act of (blindly) interpreting black-letter law?
This embodiment of a blind, deaf, mute and amoral Justitia, in the Pakistan, was last seen on Thursday, when the honorable Islamabad High Court “acquitted” Maryam Nawaz and Capt. (R) Safdar “of the charges against” them in the Avenfield Reference, on the basis of judicial and legal “reasons to be recorder later”. And just like that, through a short-order (of one sentence), the honorable IHC has, for the most part, brought thirty-years of corruption allegations, against the Sharif family, to a close.
Since detailed order for Maryam Nawaz’s acquittal—a prelude to Nawaz Sharif’s acquittal in the same cases—is awaited, there is no way to definitively comment on the rationale of the honorable court, in arriving at this incredulous conclusion. For now, the only peek into the Court’s mind is based on observations and comments made during the proceedings, as reported across the public media.
So, with a sullen heart, let us take a moment to overview the argument for Sharif family’s acquittal, in this fictitious dialogue.
Honorable Justitia: Sharif family, you stand accused and convicted of money laundering and owning assets beyond your known sources of income, especially with regards to the Avenfield Apartments of London.
Sharif family: We have been living in the Avenfield apartments (without rent) for thirty years, we live there still. Nawaz Sharif, having absconded from this Court, lives there. Cabinet members of Pakistan visit there, for (un)official meetings. We brought Judge Shamim there. We are in the process of looking for a buyer for the apartments. But none of that means that Avenfield apartments belong to us. How can you conjecture that these apartments have anything to do with us? Let Pakistan first prove that the apartments belong to us, and only then can we be asked to justify our means.
Honorable Justitia: Well, NAB? Do you have any document to show that the Avenfield apartments belong to the Sharif family?
NAB: MiLords, under Chairman Aftab Sultan, appointed on Nawaz Sharif’s directions, we do not.
Honorable Justitia: Do you have any evidence at all?
NAB: As is a matter of public record, the honorable Supreme Court, as well as the JIT, PanamaLeaks papers, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, even BBC documentaries, have shown documents that the apartments belong the Sharif family. Also, members of the Sharif family have, at multiple occasions, publicly accepted that the Avenfied Apartment belong to the Sharif family.
Sharif family: Well, such admissions do not matter, MiLords. Nawaz Sharif’s statement on the floor of the Parliament, about Avenfield, was merely ‘siyasi’. Lying to the Parliament, or the nation, is not a crime. And whatever the Supreme Court observed in the Panama judgment does not matter–the Supreme Court isn’t a trial court. And Hussain Nawaz’s admission? Well, we do not take him seriously. No one does. It is hard enough for the poor boy to cope with his billionaire lifestyle. Must he now also be burdened to speak the truth on national television, and then to stand by what he said? Come on, have a heart.
Honorable Justitia: NAB: is any of that evidence admissible, in terms of the obstacle course set out in Qanoon-e-Shahadat Order, 1984, concerning Sharif family’s ownership of Avenfield? How can we be sure that Sharif family owns the apartments? Just because the poor guys have been living at Avenfield for thirty years, and have voluntarily admitted to owning the apartments before public media and the honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan, doesn’t mean that they actually own the them! Is there any evidence for it (beyond the very obvious)?
NAB: MiLords, under Chairman Aftab Sultan, appointed on Nawaz Sharif’s directions, we have no (admissible) evidence.
Honorable Justitia: Well, that settles it then. There is no evidence, produced by NAB, which show that the Avenfield Apartment belong to the incorruptible Sharifs. So what if they live there! So what if they provided fake trust deeds, before the honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan, to show the ownership. So what if Nawaz Sharif’s sons accepted their ownership. So what if everyone knows that these apartments belong to the Sharifs. So what if a blind man can look through the hypocrisy of this system of justice. So what? As such, since there is no evidence to show that Sharif family owns the apartments in London, there is no reason for them to show any money trial. Acquitted.
As can be expected, this verdict will go a long way in protecting the integrity of justice in our land, and strengthening public faith in our judicial institution. Bravo!
But just a side note for the honorable Justitia. Correct in law, as your decision may be, the people are laughing at it behind your back. They are laughing at the mockery of justice that has concluded that we cannot be sure if Avenfield apartments belong to the Sharif family. They are laughing at our laws, MiLords, and at seats of justice that interpret them. And those who are not laughing, are looking towards the heavens for some hope of deliverance. Deliverance from the rule of despotic political dynasties. And, MiLords, respectfully, deliverance from you, as well as from your (morally) blind standards of justice.
But that shouldn’t matter to you, MiLords. Nothing should.

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be contacted at saad@post.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter

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