ISLAMABAD - The Islamabad High Court (IHC) Wednesday barred the special court from announcing its verdict in high treason case against former army chief general (retd) Pervez Musharraf.

A three-member bench of the IHC headed by IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah announced this decision accepting Ministry of Interior’s petition in this matter.

The IHC larger bench noted in its short order, “For reasons to be recorded later, we allow writ petition No 4075/2019 filed by the Ministry of Interior and consequently set aside the impugned order dated 19-11-2019. The instant petition and W.P No 4076/2019 are thus disposed of in the following terms.”

The IHC bench added, “The Federal Government is directed to notify the prosecutor or a team of prosecution, as the case may be, on or before 5-12.2019.”

“The learned special court will fix a date for affording a reasonable opportunity of hearing to the notified prosecutor or the prosecution team, as the case may be, as well as the counsel appointed for the accused under section 11(2) of the Criminal Laws Amendment (Special Court) Act, 1976,” said the verdict.

It continued “The learned special court is expected to take into consideration the grounds raised in the application filed under section 265-K of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898. The parties shall be at liberty to raise any other factual or legal ground.”

The court also said, “The learned special court is expected to conclude the proceedings expeditiously having regarding to the cardinal principles of fair trial.” “The petitioner in W.P No 4076/2019 namely Barrister Salman Safdar may, if he so wishes, assist the learned counsel appointed for the accused under section 11(2) of the Act of 1976,” added the court.

During the hearing, a three-member larger bench of the court comprising IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani directed Musharraf’s lawyer Salman Safdar to sit down as they were going to first hear the petition filed by the interior ministry.

In the beginning of the proceedings, Justice Athar asked from the Additional Attorney General (AAG) Sajid Ilyas Bhatti that if there an official notification about formation of a special court? Bhatti responded in the affirmative.

Justice Athar remarked as per the record, the special court had been formed correctly and enquired why the interior ministry had written that it was formed incorrectly in its petition. The AAG answered that their case was that the prosecution team that presented the final arguments was not legal.

Earlier, a three-member special court headed by Justice Waqar Ahmed Seth and comprising Justice Nazar Akbar and Justice Shahid Kareem had reserved the verdict on November 19 which was to be announced on November 28.

The former president general (retd) Musharraf is facing high treason case under Article 6 of the Constitution for suspending and abrogating constitution on 3rd November and promulgated emergency and Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) in the country.

Interior secretary had filed the petition under Article 199 of Constitution to set aside the special court’s order dated November 19. The petitioner stated that special court’s decision to reserve its verdict in the case was in violation of the constitution because it was issued without giving ministry the opportunity to notify a new prosecution team in the case and because the judgment was set to be passed without hearing the prosecution during the trial.

The interior secretary in the last hearing had informed the special court that they had de-notified the notification about earlier prosecution team and sought sometime to issue fresh notification of a new prosecution team. Justice Waqar Ahmed Seth, head of special court raised question whether the government had sought court permission before changing the entire prosecution team and said, “It is unacceptable and hence refused”.

The ministry had stated, “If the special court proceeds to pass its judgment without hearing the prosecution, the accused (Musharraf) will be handed an opportunity to escape punishment on purely technical legal faults”.

It argued that the federal government had the mandate to change the prosecution team and cited a “defective application of procedure, lengthy delay and expense incurred at [the] trial” as reasons for denotifying the prosecution team in Musharraf’s case.

According to the petition, the initial prosecution team after being de-notified on October 23, had no authority to file written arguments on behalf of the federal government, not to represent it at the hearing on Oct 24. Therefore, any verdict issued on the basis of these written arguments filed unlawfully “cannot be deemed to be a judgment [passed] after hearing the prosecution.”

The ministry had requested the IHC to set aside special court’s Nov 19 order. It added that as an interim measure, operation of the order be suspended, and the interior ministry be given opportunity to re-notify a prosecution team for the case.

The petition asked the IHC to restrain the special court from issuing its final judgement in the case until the requirements of Section 6 of the Criminal Law Amendment (Special Court) Act, 1976, have been complied with.