Tuesday July 16, 2024

Imran Khan appears before SC via video link for NAB amendments case hearing

Supreme Court adjourns hearing of case indefinitely; PTI chief allowed to appear on next hearing as well

By Shabbir Dar
May 16, 2024
Image released by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) shows former prime minister Imran Khan during his appearance at the Supreme Court on May 16, 2024. —PTI
Image released by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) shows former prime minister Imran Khan during his appearance at the Supreme Court on May 16, 2024. —PTI

RAWALPINDI: Imran Khan, former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) founder, Thursday appeared before the Supreme Court via video link to present his arguments in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) amendments case.

The case — taken up by SC following the intra-court appeals filed by the federal and provincial governments against the NAB amendments struck down by the apex court — was heard by a five-member SC larger bench headed by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa and comprising Justice Amin-ud-Din Khan, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Hasan Azhar Rizvi.

The hearing of the case was not livestreamed today.

Earlier today, on the orders of the Supreme Court, arrangements were completed at the Adiala Jail for the appearance of PTI founder, Geo News reported citing jail sources.

The sources said the Adiala jail administration had apprised the PTI founder about his appearance through video link. The staff of the top court and jail authorities did a trial run of the video link before Khan’s appearance, they added.

Imran Khan appears via video link

Khan, incarcerated in Adiala jail, wanted to appear in the top court in person to present his arguments after which the court allowed him to defend himself via video link.

A day ago, his lawyers Khawaja Haris and Intezar Panjutha held a short meeting with Khan in jail following the SC's order.

"The PTI founder can present his arguments in the upcoming hearing via video link if he wishes to do so [...] arrangements should be made for the presentation of arguments via video link," Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa had said Tuesday.

He remarked this during hearing of the federal government’s intra-court appeal against the SC’s 2023 verdict that annulled some of the NAB amendments. This case was also being heard by the aforementioned bench.

The ex-premier has been out of sight since August 2023 after he was nabbed following a conviction in the Toshakhana case.

After being arrested, the PTI founder was found guilty in several cases, including cypher and unlawful marriage, he remained imprisoned even though he had obtained bail in some of the cases.

Today's hearing

At the onset of the hearing, the CJP asked Attorney General for Pakistan Mansoor Usman Awan if the video link with Khan had been established.

“The video link is up,” responded the AGP.

The former prime minister, who appeared via the video link, was seen wearing a light blue shirt.

Following this, the government’s counsel Makhdoom Ali Khan began his argument and was asked to speak loudly so that PTI founder could also hear his arguments via video link.

The court also sought the verdict on the NAB amendments case hearing at the Islamabad High Court.

The government’s counsel said that matter of NAB amendments has been pending in the IHC.

Justice Minallah asked the lawyer whether the application pending in the high court was accepted for hearing.

“Yes, it was declared admissible,” Makhdoom replied. He was then asked by CJP Isa to get the full record of case against NAB amendments from the IHC.

Khawaja Haris, who was Khan’s lawyer in the case before the PTI founder requested to make arguments in the case himself, was also present in the SC.

CJP Isa asked Khawaja Haris if he submitted the fee bill as a lawyer. “I don't want fee,” he replied.

The chief justice told Haris the court would like to hear his stand in the case as well, as he was the lawyer in the case when it was challenged initially in the Supreme Court .

The chief justice, during the hearing, asked when the petition against NAB amendments was filed in IHC.

“The application was filed in the Islamabad High Court on July 4, 2022,” replied Makhdoom, adding that the SC fixed the appeal on July 6, 2022, while the hearing took place on July 19 the same year.

CJP Isa asked the government’s lawyer why the case proceeded for so long and if he was trying to prolong it.

“Apart from me, many lawyers had given arguments. We wanted the case to be over soon,” he said, adding that the facts were not properly evaluated while declaring the NAB amendments null and void.

“How many hearings were held in total,’ Justice Minallah asked the government’s counsel.

“A total of 53 hearings were held,” he replied.

The chief justice again inquired Makhdoom why did the case proceed for such a long time.

“Petitioners took long to present arguments,” he responded.

Justice Mandokhail asked how long did it take to make the NAB law in 1999.

“Immediately after martial law, the NAB law was made within a month,” replied the AGP.

CJP Isa said it was surprising that 53 hearings of the NAB amendments case were conducted.

“Why did it take so long to hear a case related to a few amendments? Makhdoom Ali Khan, you were present in the case, why did it take so long?” the chief justice asked.

“It took a lot of time to discuss whether the case was admissible,” the government’s counsel replied.

The chief justice asked how the case was admissible in the SC despite being heard by the IHC.

“Did the court respond to this question in the verdict of the main case,” CJP Isa questioned.

Makhdoom replied that the court had indeed mentioned this issue in the judgment. The lawyer then went on to read the relevant paragraph of the SC decision in the court.

Meanwhile, Justice Minallah asked the government’s counsel what were the objections to the PTI founder’s request in the matter.

“The registrar's office objected that no reference was made to any other relevant forum,” he replied, adding that the court also rejected this objection.

He added that notices were issued to the parties on the application on July 19, 2022.

At this, AGP Awan said that the former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf assumed power on October 12, 1999, and the ordinance was promulgated in December. “Musharraf had made the entire ordinance in less than two months.”

He added that the case was pending in Peshawar High Court and Lahore High Court.

The SC heard the election case despite the case being heard in the high courts, said Makhdoom.

During the hearing, reference was also made to the 4:3 judgment in the Punjab election case.

The chief justice later asked when was the Practice and Procedure Act implemented and how many hearings of the NAB amendments case were held after it.

“A lot of hearings were held after the Practice and Procedure Act,” said the government’s lawyer.

During the hearing, CJP Isa told the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa lawyer to take his seat when he mentioned that the court proceedings were not being live-streamed.

Meanwhile, Justice Minallah said Whether it was good or bad, the Practice and Procedure Act was suspended by the court.

Makhdoom argued that Justice Mansoor Ali Shah opined against proceeding with the Practice and Procedure Act without fixing it.

The chief justice remarked how the country would progress if laws continue to be suspended.

“Does suspending a bill not suspend the proceedings of Parliament?” Justice Mandokhail questioned.

“What difference does it make whether us [judiciary] or the military break the law?” CJP asked.

Justice Minallah asked Makhdoom how the government is the affected party in this case.

“Under the Practice and Procedure [Act], the appeal will be brought only by the aggrieved person,” he remarked.

Justice Mandokhail added that not only the aggrieved person, but the aggrieved party can also file an appeal, as per the law.

“There can be two interpretations that the right of appeal was restricted to the aggrieved party only. The aggrieved party may then include members of the government bench passing the bill,” the chief justice remarked, adding that the court will then have 150 applications if that happens.

“Legislators have written the words ‘aggrieved party’,” Justice Minallah remarked.

The Supreme Court adjourned the hearing of the case indefinitely and directed that the PTI founder's appearance via video-link be ensured on next hearing. 

NAB amendments case

A three-member bench of the SC, in September 2023, had approved former prime minister Khan’s petition challenging amendments made to the country’s accountability laws during the tenure of the previous Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)-led government.

Headed by then-chief justice Umar Ata Bandial, and comprising Justice Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, the court held more than 50 hearings and in its majority 2-1 verdict restored graft cases against public office holders that were closed down following the amendments.

The apex court ordered restoring all graft cases worth less than Rs500 million that were closed down against the political leaders belonging to different political parties and public office holders and declared the amendments void.

The verdict provisions far-reaching consequences as the striking down of the amendments would mean that references against some of the country’s political bigwigs will once again land in the accountability courts.

These include the Toshakhana reference against Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan Peoples Party Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, along with the LNG reference against former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and the rental power reference against another ex-premier Raja Pervez Ashraf.

Following the verdict, the federal government filed an appeal under Section 5 of the SC law against the apex court’s order.