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July 2, 2020

Law Ministry ordered to provide lists of lawyers, law firms it engaged

Top Story

July 2, 2020

ISLAMABAD: In a historic verdict, Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) has directed the Law Ministry to provide the details of the lawyers and the law firms engaged by the governments of Pakistan through the same ministry from January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2018.

The petition was filed by this correspondent after failing to get the record from Law Ministry which was requested under the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 and fundamental right guaranteed under article 19.A of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973.

Three-member commission headed by Chief Information Commissioner Mohammad Azam, Information Commissioner Fawad Malik and Information Commissioner Zahid Abdullah gave this historic judgment a copy of which is received here by this correspondent.

This correspondent had approached the Law Ministry under the Right of Access to Information Act 2017, seeking the details of the lawyers and law firms engaged during the above mentioned dates seeking the details of cases assigned to each lawyer/law firm, and the amount paid to each lawyer/law firm from January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2018. However, the Federal Law Ministry did not respond the right to information request tendered by this correspondent. Following which an appeal was filed before the 3-member Pakistan Information Commission in Islamabad.

In its three-page verdict, Pakistan Information Commission also showed its displeasure to the Law Ministry officials saying that despite the two notices of the commission, respondent has not given a reply.

Commission further added, “Neither the written reply was submitted nor did anyone represent the public body at the time of hearing the appeal.

Earlier, the public body has failed to process the request as required under section 13 and overlooked the time limit provided in section 14 of the Act. It is presumed that the respondent has nothing to present in their defence. This amounts to willful and deliberate delay and obstruction in disclosure of the information and activity of the Commission and is liable to imposition of fine under section 20(f) of the Act.”

While warning Law Ministry without naming it, Commission in its order said, “The public body must be careful in the future.” In the same verdict, commission also gave its view regarding the transactions, expenditures, agreements, contracts, notifications, remunerations and the perks and privileges etc saying that, “they fall in the category of information that ought to have been duly published including uploading over the internet and computerisation by the principle officer of each public body, within six months of the commencement of the Act. The respondent has defiled the mandatory provisions of sections 5 and 8 of the Act.”

Commission was of the view that the transparency through disclosure of the usage of tax money is the soul and emphasised in the preamble of the Act. The insight and the purpose behind the enactment of this Act is to ensure transparency and the right of the people to have access to information for making the government accountable to the people and for promoting good governance.

It is pertinent to mention that previously a number of attempts was made to get the same information this correspondent attempted to seek but each attempt would fail.