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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court said Article 248 of the Constitution does not exempt the ministers from appearing before the court, where criminal proceedings against them are pending.

Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial said that the criminal justice system should not be made an exception. He said it is reported in the media that some senior members in the government are seeking an exception, and adding such an exception will be more glaring. There has been a juggling of the case facts.

However, Attorney General for Pakistan Ashtar Ausaf submitted that no exception has been sought from the trial. He was referring to the case against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif before the Central Judge, Lahore.

Justice Bandial then said the purpose of the hearing is not to please anyone, but the Court wants the criminal system to be satisfactory. He said they want the ECL system also to be fair and no impartiality. He, however, said changes in the ECL Rules prima facie seem to be controversial.

The chief justice noted that there is an impression that the FIA prosecutor was removed not due to absence, prior to the hearing of the case before the trial court, but on account of subsequent development. He further said that there is also an impression that the prosecutor was changed in order to benefit and to stop the further proceedings against certain persons in the government.

A five-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, and Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar, on Friday, heard the suo moto regarding the apprehension of undermining the criminal justice system by persons in authority.

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The Court directed the attorney general to present the Investigation Officer (IO)’s record, regarding the corruption case [against Shehbaz Sharif before the Central Judge, Lahore]. The attorney general said that the IO has not been changed, but was hospitalized, therefore, could not appear before the trial court, while the team of the prosecution was changed due to absence on two subsequent dates.

At the end of the proceeding, former attorney general Irfan Qadir, representing Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, came on the rostrum and said he would like to make a submission. Justice Bandial told him that they would listen but whatever he wanted to say, give them in writing.

Upon that, Irfan Qadir asked the bench to provide him with the questions in writing, which required replies. He further said as at the moment rivalry between the political parties is going on. He suggested to the bench not to drag in politics, adding the impression is being gathered that the court has a tilt towards one party.

The bench instead of affording him an opportunity to speak immediately left the courtroom, without announcing the next date of hearing.

Earlier, the court noted that the amendment in the Exit Control List (ECL) was made on 22nd April 2022 and the subjects like misuse of authority, corruption and embezzlement were removed, and the names of those involved in corruption and tax theft of Rs10 million were from the list.

Ashtar Ausaf submitted that the amendment in the ECL Rules was made after the cabinet’s approval. Justice Muneeb Akhtar noted when there was no mention of the word “retrospective” in the notification of the Cabinet Division then how it applied to the names added in the past.

He cited the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Sugar Mills case, saying the word “retrospective” was mentioned in the verdict.

He remarked that the persons who have been facing the case could approve to change the rules. He questioned, is it not a conflict of interest. This is a serious violation of the code of conduct. He asked for details of which cabinet members who had benefited from the move to be submitted to the court.

Justice Ijazul Ahsan inquired whether the referring agency was consulted before the removal of their names from the ECL, adding the NAB report said it was not consulted. He said according to the rules each and every case had to be examined before removing the name from the ECL.

Justice Ijaz said that general amnesty was granted to those who were not eligible. He observed that a (cabinet) member who was facing charges could have “disassociated” himself from the changes.

Justice Ahsan asked whether names would automatically be removed from the ECL after 120 days, to which the attorney general replied in the affirmative. Justice Naqvi observed that cabinet members had also benefitted from the rules. “How can they introduce amendments for their personal benefit?”

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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