ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Tuesday reserved its judgement on the petition of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman against the amendments in National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999.
A three-member bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah conducted hearing of former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s petition against the amendments in the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999.
After hearing the parties’ counsels the CJP said, “Something short and sweet should come out, that may be done soon.”
At the outset of the hearing, Haris contended before the court: “A lot of pending cases have been returned after the NAB amendments.” At this, CJP Bandial inquired if there were any sections in the amendments under which cases could be referred to another relevant forum. “After these amendments, a lot of NAB’s work has come to an end,” he remarked.
The lawyer then replied that as per the amendments, an investigation would be conducted, after the review of which the cases could be sent to other forums. He also informed the court that after the changes to the law, neither did the NAB have the authority to deal with the cases nor to send them to other relevant forums.
Here, Justice Shah noted that a law was not needed to forward cases to other forums, saying, “If there was a murder in the NAB’s office, the matter will [automatically] go to the relevant forum.” “Will definitely ask about the matter of not getting the authority to send cases to other forums,” he added. Here, Imran’s counsel informed the court that written requests have been submitted to the court.
At this point during the hearing, the CJP asked Haris if he had read the NAB report submitted to the Supreme Court, referring to an updated report the NAB furnished last week detailing the return of corruption references since January 1. “The NAB has detailed the reasons for references returned till May [this year]. The reasons for the return of references indicate where the law is leaning towards,” the top judge remarked.
Noting that it was now on record that references against whom had been returned till May this year, CJP Bandial recalled that one amendment to section 23 (transfer of property void) of the NAO was made in May while another in June this year. “The references returned before May are with the NAB till today,” he stated, asking who would answer these questions on the NAB’s behalf. To this, Special Prosecutor Sattar Awan informed the court that the additional prosecutor general “will be reaching the court shortly”.
Here, while admitting that defending oneself was easier under the NAB amendments, Haris contended that his client was not taking advantage of them and recalled he had told the NAB the same. “The statement submitted to the NAB is also part of the court record,” he added.
Chief Justice Bandial said that the NAB report indicated that there were 36 pending references in Karachi and 21 in Lahore. The NAB prosecutor clarified that those references included details of ongoing cases unaffected by recent amendments.
CJP Bandial noted a case involving an individual named Tariq Awan that had been sub-judice for eight years. The prosecutor explained that those cases were related to illegal land allotment.
The chief justice inquired if the returned cases were still pending with NAB, to which the prosecutor replied in the affirmative. “In 2022, we received 386 NAB references back,” the prosecutor informed the court.
The court instructed the Attorney General (AG) to provide a written report on this matter. However, the additional attorney general apologised to the court for the AG’s absence, citing that he was currently out of the country.
At this point during the hearing, Justice Ahsan observed, “After the amendments, the pending investigations and inquiries have gone to the mortuary. Till the mechanism for the transfer of inquiries is formed, the public’s rights will be directly affected.”
Imran’s counsel then stated that “elected representatives also have to undergo the test of Section 62(1)(f) (of the Constitution) and they use their powers as an Ameen”.
Here, Justice Shah noted that army officers had been excused from the NAB ordinance, to which Haris responded that the petition “had not challenged the amendments pertaining to army officers” as the Army Act 1952 already had provisions to deal with corruption cases against military officials. “Punishments are also present against civil officers and public office holders,” Justice Shah responded, to which Haris said that under the civil servants’ law, only institutional action was to be taken and not a criminal complaint against corruption offences.