Islamabad: In a surprise move, the federal government on Wednesday changed all three judges — two at Accountability Court and one at Anti-Narcotics Court — hearing cases of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders.

The judges were hearing cases of PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif, Vice-President Maryam Nawaz Sharif, another Vice-President and Leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly Hamza Shahbaz and President of the PML-N Punjab MNA Rana Sanaullah.

The three judges were sent to the Lahore High Court through notification issued by the Law and Justice Ministry on August 26.

the Law Ministry has asked the high court to recommend names of district and sessions judges for deputation in the Anti-Narcotics Court and the Accountability Court.

The Accountability Court judge Muhammad Naeem Arshad was hearing cases of Shahbaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shehbaz whereas judge Masood Arshad was hearing Rana Sanaullah’s case in the Anti-Narcotics Court.

The third judge Mushtaq Elahi, who was transferred to the Lahore High Court, was also looking into several cases, including Sharifs’ filed by National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

Judge Masood Arshad was hearing Rana Sanullah’s bail plea when the transfer order reached him, and he mentioned it during the hearing as well.

“I have been conveyed through WhatsApp that my services have been repatriated to the LHC so I am no more entitled to hear this case,” said judge Arshad.

During the hearing, Sanaullah’s counsel said the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) had requested for judicial remand of his client without even seeking physical remand. “It clearly shows that this case is politically motivated,” the lawyer said.

The judge went for an hourlong break before announcing that he can no longer hear the case.

After the break, lawyer for the PML-N’s leader said he saw it coming as he knew “how strong ANF’s case was”. The judge said he was answerable to Almighty Allah and would have decided Rana Sanaullah’s case on merit. Before quitting he adjourned hearing till September 7.

Later, while talking to the media, Rana Sanaullah’s counsel said the development was unprecedented and it has happened for the first time during his practice.

Meanwhile, Law Ministry in a statement has clarified that it had not sent WhatsApp message to any judge as is being reported in the media. A senior official of the ministry while requesting anonymity said the measure has been taken after the Supreme Court’s remarks and the inquiry initiated against a judge of the Accountability Court of Islamabad Arshad Malik.