CJP to decide on Panama leaks commission: Justice Nisar

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Decision on a request made by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government for the formation of a judicial commission to probe the Panama Papers leaks will be taken after Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Anwar Zaheer Jamali returns from his visit abroad, Acting CJP Saqib Nisar said on Saturday.

Speaking on the sidelines of his oath-taking ceremony as the acting CJP, Justice Nisar said he did not have the powers as the acting chief to constitute the judicial commission.

The CJP will consult other judges before making any decision regarding the commission requested by the government, said Justice Nisar. He made it clear that every government department or agency would be bound to cooperate and assist the judicial commission if it is constituted.

Supreme Court Registrar Arbab Arif told reporters that although the letter by the government about the commission has already been sent to the chief justice, “the decision will be made after Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali returns”.

The oath was administered to Justice Nisar by Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa in a ceremony at the Supreme Court.

Justice Nisar will serve as CJP during Chief Justice Jamali’s stay in Turkey, where he will participate in the annual ceremony of the Turkish Constitutional Court. He is expected to return on May 1.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his state address on Friday announced the writing of a letter to the chief justice to investigate allegations made against the premier’s family in wake of the Panama Papers leak.

Soon after the announcement, the government issued an SRO under which a three-man commission under Section 3(1) of the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 1956 is appointed.

Constitutional expert SM Zafar said that the acting chief justice has the authority to take decision on the government request to constitute a judicial commission to probe the Panama Papers allegations.

However, “the acting Chief Justice Saqib Nisar is not willing to take any decision on the government’s request,” sources said.

Many, including former advocate general of Punjab, Khawaja Haris, were of the opinion that any decision by the acting chief justice will not be prudent because the opposition is demanding for a CJP-led commission to investigate the Panama leaks scandal.

“In all probability, the acting chief justice will prefer to stay away from the controversy,” he said.

Supreme Court Bar Association President Ali Zafar has termed the commission a powerless body because it had no power to conduct investigation in foreign lands.

His view was endorsed by former additional attorney general Tariq Khokhar who believed that the leaks scandal could not be investigated meaningfully in Pakistan because the material evidence was mostly in Panama.

“It is beyond the realm of possibility to expect anyone from Pakistan to probe in Panama, which being a sovereign state, is not legally required to render any assistance to a Pakistani commission,” he said.

But Pakistan Bar Council Vice-Chairman Farogh Naseem was of the opinion that the commission could appoint any panel with a direction to go abroad and seek evidence.