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Thursday July 18, 2024

SC reserves verdict in NAB amendments' case

Federal govt submits evidence in response to Imran Khan's claims of "solitary confinement"

By Arfa Feroz Zake
June 06, 2024
A policeman walks past the Supreme Court building in Islamabad, Pakistan. — AFP/File
A policeman walks past the Supreme Court building in Islamabad, Pakistan. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court Thursday reserved verdict in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) amendments' case and granted a week for the submission of further written arguments from concerned parties.

The verdict has been reserved on the federal and provincial governments' pleas, challenging the apex court's September 15 majority 2-1 judgment, which was announced by a bench led by former chief justice Umar Ata Bandial.

In 2022, the Pakistan Democratic Movement government made amendments to the National Account­ability (NAB) Ordinance, with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) founder Imran Khan challenging it in the court as it would "virtually eliminate any white-collar crime committed by a public office holder".

In its judgment on Khan's appeal, the top court ruled on Sept 15 that the public officials whose cases had ended due to the amendments made by the PDM-led government would have to once again face corruption references.

The government then filed a petition in October 2023, saying that the majority judgement suffers from procedural impropriety and is, therefore, liable to be set aside.

During the hearings, PTI founder Khan appeared before the five-member bench via video link and also expressed the issues that he's been facing during imprisonment.

He had claimed that he was in solitary confinement, but the federal government Thursday submitted documents to show that the former prime minister was being provided several facilities.

After hearing arguments from all sides the bench — led by CJP Qazi Faez Isa and comprising Justices Athar Minallah, Aminuddin Khan, Jamal Khan Mandokhail, and Hasan Azhar Rizvi — reserved the verdict.

Govt provides details of facilities

The government provided evidence, including photographs of the facilities that Khan was benefitting from during his incarceration in response to his claims of "solitary confinement" and not receiving the provisions.

In the jail, Khan is provided with an exercise bike and stretching belt for physical fitness, books, a separate kitchen, a special menu, an exclusive gallery for a walk, LED, a room cooler, and a study table.

In the detailed document submitted to the court, the government not only provided photographic evidence of all the facilities but also the names of all those who have visited him in the prison facility so far.

The former prime minister also held 105 meetings with at least 403 people during the time period of 246 days — from September 28 to May 30 — in Rawalpindi's Adiala jail.

Today's hearing

At the outset of the hearing, Pakistan People's Party lawyer Farooq H Naik told the SC that various points of the judgment have been pointed out in the written submissions.

“I have written my arguments on the SC judgment,” said the lawyer.

CJP Isa asked the lawyer if he is supporting the decisions following the submissions to the court.

Naik said he supports Justice Mansoor Ali Shah's note.

“Are you following the arguments of Makhdoom Ali Khan?” asked the chief justice.

“My position is the same but the arguments are my own,” said Naik in response.

Khawaja Haris was called to attend the hearing to assist the SC in the appeals.

Justice Minallah asked Haris if the way NAB arrested the accused was right. “Many amendments in NAB are good. But we were neither satisfied with 90-day remand nor the arrests,” the lawyer said.

He added that the good amendments were not challenged.

After being questioned about the NAB law by CJP Isa, Haris told the court that it was introduced by the government of former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s rule, while a similar act was passed by the Nawaz Sharif government prior to that.

CJP Isa told Haris that the PTI government could have restored the NAB Act. “Pervez Musharraf said that the purpose of NAB’s work was to remove corrupt politicians from the system.”

“No politician's name has been written in our petition,” said Haris.

Apparently PTI founder’s government also only wanted the accountability of the politicians, said the chief justice.

No amendment was made in relation to the judiciary and institutions or individuals on which the law is not applicable, said CJP Isa, adding that the Parliament could have legislated in this regard.

“All major political parties were in government from 1999 to 2018, said Haris, adding that no government made such amendments to the law.

Other political parties are not a party in the matter, said the chief justice, adding that the amendments were challenged by PTI, therefore, they will be questioned.

“The amendments were challenged in a specific context. Corruption affects the basic rights of people and looting people's money is a violation of fundamental rights,” said Haris, adding that NAB laws are applicable to public office holders and they aren’t just politicians.

Is only the NAB authorised to find out whether there is corruption or not, Justice Mandokhail asked.

Justice Minallah remarked why NAB’s authority was only placed on the elected public office holder and not a non-elected one.

“Do you just want political accountability?” asked the CJP. He later questioned why only politicians were kept under the jurisdiction of NAB as that was “beyond comprehension”.

Haris responded by saying that decisions are made by elected representatives and their implementation is done by bureaucracy.

Justice Shah's opinion was correct or the decision of the two-member bench, CJP Isa asked Haris.

“In my opinion, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah's note was not correct,” he responded.

Justice Minallah remarked that the Parliament’s legislation cannot be suspended — a view that the chief justice also echoed.

Justice Minallah asked Haris which amendments were challenged by his client.

“The amendments in Section 2 were challenged to apply retroactively. The amendments in Section 4, 16, 21-G and Section 25-D were challenged,” said Haris.

When asked by the judge about repealed amendments, the lawyer provided details to the SC.

During the hearing, Justice Minallah remarked that political engineering was the purpose behind establishing NAB. He told Haris that his client would suffer if the NAB law amendments were annulled.

After the respondents concluded their arguments, the Supreme Court reserved a verdict on the federal and provincial government’s plea.

What is 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 against the apex court order.