Special Court Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain, who is hearing the cipher case against PTI Chairman Imran Khan and Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi, is on leave, it emerged on Monday. The cipher case pertains to a diplomatic document which reportedly went missing from Imran’s possession. The PTI alleges that it contained a threat from the United States to oust Imran from power. Proceedings against Qureshi, the former foreign minister, are also under way in the same case. Following the suspension of Imran’s three-year jail term in the Toshakhana case, it emerged that the ex-premier had been in judicial remand in the cipher case, which was extended till September 13 last week. The same day, Imran had approached the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against the appointment of Judge Zulqarnain, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) judge, to the special court established to hear cases filed under the Official Secrets Act. He had also filed a post-arrest bail plea in the special court, which had been fixed for hearing on September 2, with notices issued to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and other relevant authorities. However, on September 2, the hearings on the bail pleas of Imran and Qureshi were adjourned till today since the validity of the special court was under scrutiny in the IHC. Speaking to the media in Islamabad on Monday, Imran’s lawyer Naeem Haider Panjotha said that when the legal team arrived at the court premises, they found out that Judge Zulqarnain was on leave for a week. The lawyer further said that the legal team requested Administrative Judge Raja Jawad Abbas to preside over the case but he refused to do so as he was not authorised to hear the case. Panjotha said he insisted that if an ATC judge could be given the authority to hear a special court case, the administrative judge could also do so. “But our request was not accepted,” he added. The lawyer said that due to his request not being accepted, the legal team withdrew the plea. He said they would now approach the IHC seeking an answer as to who was the relevant judge to hear the case while the special court judge was on leave. Recalling that the Toshakhana case was heard “even during holidays”, Panjotha lamented that the case was repeatedly being delayed. He complained that his client was not being allowed a “fair trial” and said, “The courts should not have this demeanor.” In his interaction with the PTI chief’s legal team, Judge Abbas said that he did not have the jurisdiction to hear the case. “No one other than the special court judge can hear the case,” the judge said, adding that he could do so only if the IHC gave him the authority. He noted that there were “24 courts here”, whose cases he could hear but “this matter (cipher case) is different”.