Friday December 09, 2022

Bring ECL rules changes within legal ambit: Supreme Court

The apex court also hoped that the federal government would appoint a new head of NAB after due consideration

By Our Correspondent
June 04, 2022
The Supreme Court building in Islamabad. Photo: The SC website
The Supreme Court building in Islamabad. Photo: The SC website

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court Friday directed the federal government to bring recent changes made in the rules of the Exit Control List within the ambit of the law in a week.

The apex court also hoped that the federal government would appoint a new head of NAB after due consideration. A five-member bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice Umer Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsen, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar was hearing the suo motu case of perceived interference in independence of prosecution branch in performance of its powers and duties for the investigation and prosecution of pending criminal matters involving persons in authority in the government.

“We expect that honest, clean and reputed person will be appointed chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB),” the CJP said and asked Attorney-General Ashter Ausaf that no external pressure should be taken in this regard. During the course of hearing Friday, Justice Munib Akhtar asked the AGP as to how ministers whose names were on the ECL have them removed from the list.

The AG said that as per the code of conduct a personal case was not referred to any minister. “Then why it was not implemented in letter and spirit,” Justice Munib said. Chief Justice Umer Ata Bandial said that the court had asked for putting the name of Khawaja Saad Rafique on the ECL.

But Khawaja Saad Rafique did not attend the cabinet meeting that had approved the changes in Rule 2 of the ECL, the AG said. Justice Munib Akhtar said that as per record Khawaja Saad Rafique had attended the meeting.

Earlier, Attorney-General Ashter Ausaf while defending the removal of names of people from the Exit Control List (ECL) submitted that every citizen of the country had constitutional right to move and visit foreign countries freely.

He said that their names could not be placed on the ECL just because they were under investigation. The AG said that before putting the names on the ECL, the federal government examined allegations against such persons and kept into consideration their fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution

He submitted that the federal government had amended Rule 2 of the Exit Control List, 2010, after fulfilling all legal requirements, adding that it has discretionary powers to makes changes in the rules.

Referring to removing the names of cabinet members from the ECL, the AG said that basic reason for removing their names was to enable them to perform their duties. Ahster Ausaf said that it was not mandatory to consult the NAB before removing the names from the ECL, adding that nothing was mentioned in law in this regard

“We know that you have also released a person we had ordered to keep him behind bars,” the CJP said. The AGP said a reference was filed against that person in 2018.

“But we had passed the order in 2021,” the CJP said. The AGP replied that the court order was implemented; adding that the person was released after a reference was decided.

The CJP said that as per the NAB names of those persons had been removed from the ECL who had corruption charges against them. The AGP said that when the NAB needed the accused, it could ask again for placing their names on the ECL.

“At the moment we are not interfering in the domain of the executive but we want implementation of law so that everyone can be provided justice,” the CJP said.

Justice Munib Akhtar asked the AGP as to who decided for invoking the changes made to the ECL retrospectively. The AGP said it was decided on the basis of recommendations made by the sub-committee.

Justice Mazahir Al Akbar Naqvi said that it was the stance of the government that going abroad was a fundamental right of a person. “If it is a fundamental right, what was the justification for the ECL then,” Justice Naqvi asked.

“In my opinion there should be no ECL,” the AGP replied. “But we will not go by with the personal opinion in the present matter,” the CJP said, adding that honesty as well as transparency should be followed while exercising powers.

At the outset of the hearing, the FIA’s DG (Law) told the court that Sharjeel Memon and eight other people who had gone abroad but they had never returned. Chief Justice Umer Ata Bandial said that their only concern was about independent investigation to ensure that everyone should get a fair trial and one should not be subjected to injustice.

The CJP said that a careless performance on the prosecution side greatly affected cases hence special attention should be given to improve the judicial system to ensure speedy justice to the people and no innocent person should be put behind bars.

He said that the superior judiciary had overturned wrong decisions. In this respect, the CJP rejected a report published in media wherein it was stated that Pakistan’s judiciary was ranked 128th in the world

The CJP said that the ranking of Pakistan in dispensation of justice was determined on mere perception but not on appropriate data.

Meanwhile, the chief justice said that they would not tolerate any pressure on the agency to file cases and directed the DG FIA to inform the court if someone had tried to force it to register a particular case.

“Do not accept any interference and if anybody pressures you, tell us freely and we will give you protection.” Later, the court adjourned the hearing until June 14.