Economy is on the brink of collapse today: CJP

Amendments in NAB laws

| Chief Justice Bandial says accountability falls under fundamental rights | Structure of law should be debated in assembly instead of court: Justice Mansoor | Justice Ijaz asks whether amnesty can be given to certain persons by making a law.

Efforts are being made to turn Supreme Court into 3rd chamber of Parliament, says federal govt’s counsel.

ISLAMABAD   -   The Supreme Court of Pakistan Friday while hearing Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s petition against the amendments in National Accountability Bureau (NAB) laws directed the accountability watchdog to submit its response over the matter.

A three-member SC bench comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah heard the case.

During the course of proceedings, Additional Attorney General Amir Rehman said  Advocate Makhdoom Ali Khan had been nominated as the federal government’s counsel in the case, who was then granted permission to present his arguments.

Makhdoom Ali Khan said neither the bar councils nor the civil society had raised any objection to the NAB law amendments. Upon this, Advocate Khawaja Haris, counsel for Imran Khan, pointed out that the Islamabad Bar Council had challenged the amendments in the high court.

Makhdoom said efforts were being made to turn the Supreme Court into the third chamber of Parliament. Several NAB cases had been fought over the years and the honourable judges knew what happened in the assets-beyond-means cases, he added.  He said the president, instead of approving the NAB law, had sent a letter to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, which included suggestions regarding the amendments. The government had made the letter part of the case too, he added.

Makhdoom said Imran Khan should be asked why he was opposing the amendment now, which he had earlier favoured. If it was a political strategy, he should use another forum instead of the court, he added.

Justice Ijaz said the court was not looking into who had introduced the law, but whether it violated fundamental rights. Justice Mansoor asked the counsel to inform the court how NAB contributed to the economy.

Chief Justice Bandial said the economy was on the brink of collapse today. The court also had to look at the public interest, he added. He observed that some new amendments had been made in the NAB law.

Justice Ijaz asked whether the bill would be included in the record of the court’s proceedings. The clause on keeping corruption amounting to less than Rs500 million outside the jurisdiction of NAB was included in the first amendment, he added.

Khawaja Haris said he had submitted an additional request in that regard and highlighted that the clause could have grave consequences. Justice Mansoor said the petition would have to be amended to challenge the bill. Makhdoom Ali Khan said the new law could not be challenged until it became an act of the Parliament.

He said if the president did not sign the new amendment, the matter would go to a joint session. It was too early to say whether the recent amendment to the NAB law would be approved in the joint session, he added. Upon this, the chief justice said the case was one in which the court would not act in haste. He said elections themselves were a form of accountability as during the polls, the people held their leaders answerable.

Khawaja Haris said even the present amendments were a violation of the constitutional mandate. The laws opposing the basic structure of the Constitution could be challenged.

Justice Bandial, addressing Khawaja Haris, said that his plea stated that there should be accountability on assets beyond means as it was a part of the fundamental rights. “ Good governance and accountability fall under fundamental rights,” he added. Justice Mansoor said the decision-making institutions could not be caught under the NAB amendments. If a civil servant made money, he could still be held answerable, he added. He observed that if there was a crackdown on the decision-making institutions, no one would invest in Pakistan.

Justice Ijaz said the definition of assets in excess of income had been applicable since 1985 under the NAB amendment law. The law was formed decades ago but it was being defined now, he added. He said punishments from the past would have to be repealed and fines would have to be returned. There would be demands for a refund of the money deposited in the national treasury through plea bargains, he added. He asked whether amnesty could be given to certain persons by making a law.  Justice Mansoor said a law could not be struck off just on the basis of abuse. He said the parliament was a reflection of the people’s principles. He asked why the PTI did not oppose the bill in the assembly if it believed it to be wrong. The structure of the law should be debated in the assembly instead of the court, he added. Subsequently, the case was adjourned till August 19.

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