With around two hundred corruption cases pending disposal, want of judges has left all the accountability courts in Karachi non-functional. The last of the six existing accountability courts was rendered non-functional on November 17 when its presiding officer, Aaliya Latif Unar, called it a day.
With all the accountability courts lying vacant for lack of appointment of presiding officers at the moment, the federal Ministry of Law and Justice has notified the special judge (customs, taxation and anti-smuggling) as the link judge to “attend the judicial business/work of Accountability Courts, Karachi till the appointment of any Judge in currently existing Accountability Courts (I, II, III, IV, V or VIII) Karachi or until further orders.”
The city had ten accountability courts until October 10 when the federal government redesignated/converted four of the accountability courts into two banking courts, one anti-narcotic and a gas utility court.
Accountability Court (AC)-VI, AC-VII, AC-IX, and AC-X were converted into Banking Court-VI, Banking Court-VII, Special Court-III (Control of Narcotic Substances), and recently set up Gas Utility Court for the Karachi division.
Sources told The News that the AC-VIII will also likely be converted into some other court, leaving the city with only five accountability courts.
They said the proceedings at the rest of the accountability courts have come to a halt due to lack of presiding officers and link judge only attends to urgent matters while routine cases are usually adjourned without hearing.
“Trial in around 200 cases is suffering delays due to the courts lying vacant,” a judicial staffer said, requesting anonymity. He added the city was left with one functional court—AC-II—in October as two other functional courts—AC-VI and AC-VII—were redesignated as banking courts.
Before that, the accountability court-IV hearing high-profile cases fell vacant on July 15 when the three-year tenure of its presiding officer, Mukesh Kumar, ended. Similarly, the accountability court-I has also been lying vacant for the past eight months.
Notably, Special Customs, Tax and Anti-Smuggling Court Judge Muhammad Saad Qureshi already has the additional charge of the special court (offences in banks). Designating him the in-charge of the accountability courts will likely overburden him with more cases.
Among the high-profile cases pending before Karachi’s accountability courts are the ones against former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former federal minister Dr Asim Hussain, former finance minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani, former Sindh minister Sharjeel Inam Memon, Muttahida Qaumi Movement leaders Mustafa Kamal and Rauf Siddiqui, former Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) chairman Moeen Aftab Sheikh and former director general Karachi Development Authority Syed Nasir Abbas.
Over 100 corruption cases filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against politicians, former ministers, businessmen, and others were sent back to the accountability courts in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling on September 15, which declared certain amendments made to the NAB law in 2022 null and void.
A total of 187 references of corruption were returned by Sindh’s accountability courts, both to NAB and to various other courts due to lack of jurisdiction following the amendments made to the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999. Of these, 109 cases were returned by Karachi’s five accountability courts, while 28 by Hyderabad’s three courts and 50 by the sole functional accountability court in Sukkur.