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EDITORIAL: The alleged use of political power for legitimization of self- interest of its members by this government has prompted the Supreme Court to take suo motu notice of it to prevent “persons in authority” from undermining the criminal justice system.

Resuming hearing of the case on Friday, a five-member bench of the court headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial raised important concerns about the change in rules regarding the Exit Control List (ECL), and transfers of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) officials investigating alleged corruption cases against the Prime Minister and his son, Chief Minister of Punjab.

Friday’s proceedings formally confirmed public conviction about the absence of constraint on self-interest — as opposed to political interest — in some of the ruling coalition’s actions that need to be curbed.

The Public Prosecutor informed the court that the names of 174 individuals accused in corruption cases had been removed from the ECL without taking the accountability watchdog into confidence. The CJP made it clear where the law stands on the issue as he advised the Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Ashtar Ausaf to read Section-2 of the ECL rules according to which terrorism, tax and loan default and corruption accused cannot leave the country.

“At whose behalf”, he asked, “the cabinet amended the rules pertaining to people involved in corruption, and defaulters?” Two other honourable members of the bench raised equally important questions agitating the public mind.

While Justice Mazhar Naqvi wondered “how could the cabinet members make amendments for their personal benefit,” Justice Munib Akhtar wanted to know if there is a rule under which it can be ensured that the file of a corruption case is not forwarded to the same minister who is the accused in it. Unsurprisingly, the AGP was at a complete loss to provide a satisfactory answer to any of this.

Although the CJP said for now the court was not nullifying the decision regarding amendments to the ECL rules and adjourned the hearing to an indefinite date, a line has been drawn between the rights and the wrongs of the matter.

In a similar vein following up on the court’s earlier decision regarding the government’s self-serving action vis-à-vis the FIA, he told the AGP that it was not nullifying any decision of the government, but the May 19 restraining order will remain in the field about transfers, postings or removal of officers involved in investigation or prosecution of high-prolife cases against top government functionaries, including the PM and CM, pending before various courts.

The Additional Attorney General was also directed to submit a certificate issued by the FIA DG to ensure that its record was preserved, and that he (the DG) would be held responsible if anything went missing from the record. It is worth recalling that in the past, a high profile personage involved in a corruption case was able to dodge the law because the relevant investigating authority claimed to have lost original documents of the case and presented photocopies before the court, something legally inadmissible.

Taking up a related issue, the CJP observed that Article 248 of the Constitution, which gives immunity to the president, governors or ministers, does not exempt ministers from making personal appearance before courts in criminal cases.

During the proceedings, he also felt it necessary to aver that the court has no interest in the person of any political individual in the government, all it wants is to see the criminal justice system function “in a fair, consistent and impartial manner.” That is what the people of this country wish to see as well.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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