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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has ruled that there is nothing in the inquiry commission report that could be claimed as an unjustified, reputational harm caused to the Sugar Mills Association or an individual.

A single bench of the IHC Chief Justice, Athar Minallah, on June 20, 2020, had passed a short order, whose detailed judgment was announced on Monday.

The sugar mills have filed an Intra-Court Appeal (ICA) against the verdict.

The judgment said that by no stretch of the imagination could the proceedings of a Commission of Inquiry, constituted under the Inquiry Act of 2017, be construed or treated as judicial or quasi-judicial because it was neither empowered nor mandated to determine civil or criminal liabilities.

Its recommendations to the federal government in the context of the specified Terms of Reference are not even binding.

The federal government may or may not act pursuant thereto.

The ordinary rules of evidence are not applicable to the proceedings of a Commission of Inquiry because it does not conduct a trial nor is in any manner vested with jurisdiction to make a determination of a criminal or civil liability. The Inquiry Act of 2017 and the constitution of the Commission of Inquiry thereunder enables the federal government to identify systemic governmental failures, supplement government departments and institutions, formulate policies and propose legislation for consideration of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament).

A document, which is not binding nor does it make determination of civil or criminal liability, cannot form a ground of grievance for the purposes of Article 199 of the Constitution.

A Commission of Inquiry, not being a court nor a tribunal, is not vested with power or jurisdiction to adjudicate upon rights nor determine liabilities.

All that the Commission of Inquiry does is to facilitate the federal government in its decision making process or formulation and implementation of policies relating to matters of public importance or matters of general interest to the public or which concerns them.

It also serves as a valuable tool available to the federal government to probe a specific incident in order to inform the public and remove their doubts.

Since a Commission of Inquiry does not adjudicate the rights and interests of individuals or persons, therefore, ordinarily the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness would not be attracted.

The proceedings are inquisitorial and not adversarial.

The Commission of Inquiry has made recommendations to the federal government for initiation of proceedings under various statutes such as the Sales Tax Act 1990, the Competition Act 2010, the Companies Act 2017, the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001, the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act 2017, the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999 and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan Act 1997. All these statutes are self contained legislative enactments and provide for distinct mechanisms to take cognizance and initiate proceedings.

The federal government, at the most, can refer the matter to the concerned statutory authority for consideration.

Even if it decides not to do so, the respective statutory authorities cannot be restrained nor are prohibited to initiate proceedings on their own. The statutory authorities are not dependent on receiving a referral from the federal government.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020