ISLAMABAD: Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah said no individual, institution, Bar Association or Council, or political party has come forward against the amendments in the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), but only one individual who ran away from the Parliament has challenged them.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, on Wednesday, heard former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s petition against the amendments in the NAO, 1999.
Justice Mansoor said; “Still we have spent so much time on hearing this petition.” He questioned is it not the core issue in this case before the Court that there is a violation of fundamental rights. He said in Imrana Tiwana case, this Court had held there should be an explicit violation of the fundamental rights. “We are sitting on 50th hearing of the case, and still trying to identify the violation of the fundamental rights,” adding this thing should have come to us (the Court) in 3rd or 4th hearing, which fundamental rights have been violated.
The chief justice remarked that people are not provided a level playing field. He said due to corruption the system has been destroyed, adding the economy is in the hands of a specific percentage.
Justice Mansoor said the people are hit by floods, climate change, and the uneven education system, adding there are a number of areas where there is no level playing field. “Is it for us (the SC) to decide, many things are not fair, but these are issues in society.” He further said there are many issues and questioned, “Is it our (Court’s) goal to deal with these issues.” He said, “As the elections are around the corner then why not leave it to the next Parliament to decide about the amendments.”
The chief justice asked Makhdoom Ali Khan, the federation’s counsel, that his contention is that no one else except the petitioner has challenged the amendments. If you want, then we would ask people then 1,000 people would come to the Court against the changes in NAO. Upon that, Makhdoom asked the chief justice, “Let’s put that to test.”
Earlier, during the hearing, the chief justice questioned why it took eight months for the government to transfer the cases from accountability courts to other forums. He said accountability is fundamental to the democratic process. The holding of elections after five years is also accountability.
Justice Bandial noted that the laws were framed by the Parliament for the benefit of the people, but in this case, offences in the law (NAO) were deleted or modified, the procedure changed. The evidentiary requirement was changed to make the cases before the accountability courts cumbersome, and the immunity was granted to some persons.
The chief justice said the limit of Rs50 crores for the cases triable under the NAB law gave relief to X number of people, and number of cases were transferred from the Accountability Courts. He further said the system of accountability should be more efficient. He questioned whether decriminalising offences is a valid parliamentary measure.
The CJP, while addressing Makhdoom, said the offences are not decriminalised but have been structured. He observed in light of the amendments instead of looking at credit entry, the closing entry will be looked at.
The chief justice noted that there are also good changes, including civil servants, who make policies, are excluded from the NAB ambit; the remand of 90 days has been reduced, and the alleged accused cannot be arrested at the stage of inquiry and investigation.
Justice Bandial further said look at the beneficiaries, adding as the NAB changes were made applicable retrospectively, therefore, many references were withdrawn.
Makhdoom argued that in Balochistan, the NAB officials investigate minor cases. He said according to the NAB if they don’t take up minor cases in Balochistan then they have nothing to do there; therefore, Rs50 crores limit.
The federation’s counsel said the presumption here is that the accountability is carried out only through the NAB, which is not correct, adding if the jurisdiction of other institutions is created to try corruption cases then how it is unconstitutional. He argued that new forums have been created, and against them appeal can be filed under Article 199 of the constitution.
He further contended that when the parliament has the power to pass laws then it also has the power to repeal or modify them. He said the NAO was a bad and draconian law to teach a lesson to the politicians and the civil servants.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023