SC bars transfers, new appointments in high-profile cases

ISLAMABAD   -   The Supreme Court of Pakistan Thursday barred the authorities from removing, transfers/postings of the officers engaged in the investigation and prosecution of high profile cases.

The apex court also stopped the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) from withdrawing such cases till further orders. A five-member bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar issued the directions while hearing the sou moto notice regarding the apprehension of undermining the criminal justice system by persons in authority. The bench said that prima facie violation of Article 10A, 25 and 4 of the Constitution.

The bench issued notices to the Secretary Ministry of Interior, the Director General FIA, the Chairman/Regional Directors, NAB, the Prosecutor Generals and Advocates Generals in the provinces and the ICT and the Head of Prosecution Branch in FIA and NAB.

The court ordered the said officers to file statements in writing, answering to the extent relevant to them, the allegations, the facts and the material that are contained in the order of 18.05.2022 and the opinion of the recommending judge for commencement of these proceedings.

It further asked the authorities to file reply and explain the names of officers, who were transferred, posted, removed from their positions in the investigating and the prosecution branch of FIA and NAB in the high profile cases, and also their successors, in the last six weeks.

They were also asked to file the names of persons who have been removed from ECL during the said period and the process employed in distinguishing their cases for the relief granted. The description of the process now adopted for dealing with the ECL affectees and whether the previous process has been amended or abandoned as a result. Status quo shall be maintained till the next hearing, added the bench.

It also asked about the steps taken for the preservation of the case files and the case record with the Investigating Branch, the Prosecution Branch and the Record of the concerned Trial Court whether a Special Court (Central) or an Accountability Court.

The apex court said that the Investigation and Prosecution record in respect of high profile cases pending with both the FIA and the NAB shall, unless required for submission in Court, be checked, verified and kept in safe custody of the head of the concerned department and a report stating compliance to the said effect shall be presented to the Court on the next date of hearing.

It made it clear that no prosecution case shall be withdrawn until the next date of hearing.

The bench also issued notices to the Registrars of the High Courts of the Provinces and ICT for conveying this order to the Courts of Special Judge (Central) and Accountability Courts functioning within the jurisdiction of the respective High Courts.

The Court said that it is concerned with the guarantees provided by the Constitution to the peoples of Pakistan in Article 4 for the rule of law, Article 10 for compliance with due process and Article 25 of the Constitution for equal protection of and equal treatment of all persons in accordance with law. These guarantees serve to assure the integrity, sanctity and fairness of the Criminal Justice System; and to secure that alone is the object of these proceedings.

It further said that the transfers, postings and removals of persons involved in the investigation of or prosecution of high profile cases falling within charge and jurisdiction of the Courts of Special Judge (Central) and the Accountability Courts shall not be removed, transferred or posted till further orders.

During the hearing, the Chie Justice of Pakistan stated that the suo motu was not meant to embarrass or hold anyone responsible. He added, “It is meant to protect the criminal justice system and the rule of law.”

He further said that FIA’s former director Mohammad Rizwan, who was probing the money laundering charges against Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and his son Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz, was also transferred and later died of a heart attack.

“We are concerned over these developments, and according to news reports, ‘thousands’ of people had benefitted after their names were removed from the no-fly list. We have been seeing such news reports for the past one month. This has an effect on the rule of law,” the CJP said. He added that it was the court’s responsibility to maintain peace and trust in society under the Constitution.

Justice Mazahar Ali Naqvi stated that the FIA prosecutor had filed a written application in the court stating that he was told not to appear in the money laundering case against PM Shahbaz and CM Hamza. Justice Muneeb said that the transfers and postings were “apparently targeted”.

The AGP contended that the FIA would have a proper reason for making the changes.

At one point, CJP Bandial remarked that the court was only concerned with ensuring justice. He further said, “We want to maintain the dignity, honour and respect of the investigation process. We are not doing this for point-scoring. We will not be affected by any kind of criticism.”

Justice Bandial remarked, “We are answerable to Allah and the Constitution. We do not need praise or gratitude from anyone and we are also not afraid of criticism, whether fair or unfair. We only want that instead of the judges the judgments could be criticized.”

The Chief Justice observed that the social media cells of political parties were very strong and the court had been observing developments while remaining a silent spectator.

“The accused in the cases have not been convicted yet. No one should tamper with the justice system,” he warned without taking any names and added that the apex court was reviewing judicial proceedings. Special courts in Karachi and Lahore lack judges while three accountability courts in Islamabad were also empty, Justice Bandial said.

The bench allowed Attorney General for Pakistan Ashtar Ausaf to file documents that to his mind shall be of assistance in the matter of securing, promoting and ensuring the integrity, sanctity and the fairness of the criminal justice system in the Investigation, Prosecution and trial of high profile cases before the AC and the Central judges.

Later, the bench deferred the hearing till May 27 for further proceedings in this matter.

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