Pakistan news June 5, 2011

Afridi's lawyer wants transparent hearing

Shahid Afridi's legal counsel has said the PCB's disciplinary proceeding against Afridi is "a sham" and has called for a transparent hearing for its client, in which he "be given the opportunity to properly defend himself through counsel." The latest in a brief flurry of legal communication between Mandviwalla & Zafar Associates and the Pakistan board has upped the stakes of an individual player-board dispute, swiftly becoming the most significant of recent years.

As ESPNcricinfo had reported, Afridi had employed lawyers in a bid to resolve the dispute on June 2 (reported on June 3). The PCB replied on June 4, again outlining the violations Afridi committed, as well as raising serious concern about his accusations of a Punjab-Lahore "lobby" being behind his ouster.

To this communication, barrister Syed Ali Zafar sent the latest letter, a four-page response on Afridi's behalf in which he questions, among other things, the "pre-judged sentence" and the "non-transparency of the hearings", and also states his client is not guilty. The last seems to be an apparent reversal of Afridi's earlier stance in which he accepted he had violated the code of conduct.

Afridi returned to Karachi from London on Sunday night, having been in touch with various political figures over the last week regarding his case. A crowd of cheering fans gathered at the airport to greet him, showing support for the sacked captain and chanting slogans against PCB chairman Ijaz Butt. There were signs and banners supporting Afridi in parts of the city as well.

The latest letter from Afridi's lawyers to the PCB, a copy of which is with ESPNcricinfo, does not clarify whether Afridi will appear before the disciplinary committee on June 8. Afridi's management in the UK had indicated that he would, but reports since have indicated he might not.

"It appears that the PCB has already made up its mind and has come to the conclusion that Shahid Afridi is "guilty", has violated his central contract and the disciplinary code, and accordingly our client's central contract is liable to be suspended/terminated and NOCs revoked," the letter reads. "Since PCB has already come to the conclusion, as is evident from your letter under reply, that our client is guilty as charged, the disciplinary proceeding is in fact a sham."

The question of whether Afridi will appear seems to hinge on whether or not he will be allowed legal representation at the hearing. The letter points out that the PCB, in detailing the disciplinary process to be followed, has said that "the proceedings shall be conducted in camera and no stranger (outsider)," which seems to indicate that Afridi will not be allowed a lawyer inside. A board official, when asked specifically whether lawyers are allowed to represent players in such hearings, told ESPNcricinfo only "the code says no outsider is permitted to attend."

There is precedent either way in earlier cases. In a disciplinary hearing involving Mohammad Asif in a doping case, his lawyer wasn't allowed to be inside, but in the case of Younis Khan last year, for example, his lawyer was allowed inside the hearing (though that was an appellate tribunal). The PCB, incidentally, will have legal representation in the committee set up to look into the matter, and at least one eminent lawyer, involved in board-player cases previously, believes "that the principles of natural justice should allow a lawyer inside to defend him."

More complication is expected on the question of whether or not Afridi has accepted guilt, and he has earlier accepted violations of the code. Now, the letter says, "As far as the allegations ...are concerned our client did not intend to plead guilty, as he is not guilty." It argues that the reason Afridi wrote the initial email to the board was "a gesture of goodwill to play the ongoing T20 tournament in England for which the PCB had already sanctioned and given him the permission through due process." It adds Afridi had not sought legal help at that stage to "understand the implications of the show cause notice."

Finally, the letter states again that due process has not been followed and that the board in a "proper, honorable and dignified way," should have issued him a show cause notice and "waited for his response before taking any action ... or announcing the formation of a disciplinary committee." Significantly, the letter also calls into question the legality of any central contract in which clauses "have the effect of restraining the freedom of our client to pursue his profession ... or which are in restraint of trade" and thus violating the country's constitution and law. The possibility of challenging such clauses, the letter says, remain open, probably in a court of law.

As conclusion, the letter draws on the spiralling nature of the dispute, and asks - dramatically perhaps - the PCB to "treat this matter as one of national importance," and revoke the suspension order and provide the NOC once again. "Our client is one of the most important players for Pakistan's cricket...and we request PCB to act in accordance with law and not force our client to resort to litigation in this regard."

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of ESPNcricinfo