SCP has barred the government from the transfer of investigation officers in high-profile cases The Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Umar Ata Bandial issued the directives in a suo motu notice

SC bars authorities from transferring & making new appointments in high-profile cases related to NAB & cases heard by special courts

CJP expresses concerns over transfers & appointments of officials in high-profile cases refraining prosecution from withdrawing such cases

Court stops the FIA & the NAB from withdrawing cases till further orders

ISLAMABAD ( Web News )

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Thursday barred authorities from transferring and making new appointments in high-profile cases related to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) as well as those heard by special courts.

The orders came from the top court during the hearing of a suo motu case on the perceived apprehension of “persons in authority” undermining the criminal justice system.

A five-judge larger bench, comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar heard the case and issued notices to Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) director-general, NAB chairman, and interior secretary and has summoned written reply on next hearing of the case on 27th May.

A day earlier, CJP Umar Ata Bandial took the notice of perceived interference in the “independence of the prosecution branch in the performance of its powers and duties for the investigation and prosecution of pending criminal matters involving persons in authority in the government”.

The chief justice took notice of the perceived interference on the recommendations of a judge belonging to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the statement issued by the apex court said.

At the outset of Thursday’s hearing, Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial expressed concerns over transfers and appointments of officials in high-profile cases refraining prosecution from withdrawing such cases.

The chief justice noted that several officers were transferred from NAB Lahore and FIA, adding that the FIA’s prosecutor in the Lahore High Court was also replaced. The court further maintained that DG FIA Sanaullah Abbasi and director Dr. Rizwan were also replaced.

Referring to Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz’s case, CJP Bandial mentioned that the DG FIA barred one of the investigation officers to appear before the court. “Nobody should interfere during the investigation and in the affairs of the prosecution branch,” the chief justice told the attorney-general.

As per the Constitution, the SC is responsible to maintain peace and an atmosphere of trust in the society, the chief justice remarked.

While referring to recent developments in cases related to the prime minister and the Punjab chief minister, Justice Ijazul Ahsan stated that FIA declared it “routine matters”.

At this, the CJP hoped that the government will cooperate in explaining the steps. As per the media reports, NAB’s record about the criminal cases has started going missing, he said, adding that the watchdog’s record in at least four cases against former president Asif Ali Zardari went missing.

The apex court further demanded an explanation regarding the transfer and appointment of an investigation officer in Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif and son CM Punjab Muhammad Hamza Shahbaz Sharif’s case.

CJP Bandial directed authorities concerned to seal the investigation and prosecution record of all the pending high-profile cases along with the comments of accountability courts and special judge central.

“Our investigation aims to serve justice while maintaining the dignity, honour and respect of the investigation process,” CJP Bandial said, adding that investigation is not for point-scoring.

“We are accountable to Allah and the Constitution,” Bandial said, adding that they will not be influenced by any kind of criticism.

He maintained, “We are not afraid of criticism and do not need praise.” The CJP said that they wanted the provision of justice to the people.

Talking about the “strong” social media cells of the political parties, the chief justice said that they have been observing it silently. He warned that nobody should try to play with the judicial system.

Meanwhile, the SC bench also sought a reply from the government over transfers and postings in NAB, FIA, and investigation and prosecution departments made during the last six weeks.

Referring to the media reports about the missing record, the top court ordered to submit a report about the steps relating to the safety of the record. The court ordered to check the record of high-profile cases with the NAB and the FIA and submit the report to the competent authority.

CJP Bandial also ordered the authorities to seal the record of high-profile cases being heard in different courts.

At this, the Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali said that the proceedings of under-trial cases will stop by sealing the record. “We are not asking to seal the record of under-trial cases, we have asked to seal the investigation and prosecution record,” replied the CJP.

Chief Justice Bandial raised questions about the transfer of FIA DG Sanaullah Abbasi and FIA Lahore chief Dr. Rizwan, who later died. He said that Abbasi was a reputable officer who performed well in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, so why he was transferred.

The top judge expressed concerns on all these issues and said prima facie it amounted to interference in the criminal justice system. The court wants Articles 10 and 25 of the constitution to be followed in letter and spirit, he said. The chief justice noted that FIA prosecutors had issued a statement about interference and the FIA did not deny it.

The court also asked to be informed about the steps being taken to protect the record of criminal cases and directed for the record of high-profile cases to be checked and sealed. When Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Ashtar Ausaf Ali protested against this, the CJP said that the record of ongoing cases would not be sealed, only that of the prosecution.

During the hearing, the CJP observed that there should be “no interference in the prosecution process or the prosecution wing”.

Justice Naqvi noted that the FIA prosecutor had filed a written application in the court stating that he was told to not appear in the money laundering case against PM Shehbaz and CM Hamza, while Justice Akhtar observed that the transfers and postings were “apparently targeted”.

However, the AGP contended that the FIA would have a proper reason for making the changes. Justice Akhtar replied by saying the court was concerned which was why the chief justice took notice, and asked the AGP to cooperate.

“The accused in the cases have not been convicted yet. No one should tamper with the justice system,” CJP warned without taking any names, adding that the apex court was reviewing judicial proceedings.

Special courts in Karachi and Lahore lack judges while three accountability courts in Islamabad were also empty, Justice Bandial observed.

Subsequently, the court stopped the FIA and the NAB from withdrawing cases till further orders.

The apex court also issued notice to prosecutor generals of all four provinces, head of prosecution FIA and NAB DGs of all provinces.

Regarding a change in the policy related to the removal of names from the exit control list (ECL), the chief justice mentioned that according to new stories published in leading newspapers 3,000 people will benefit from the policy change.

CJP Bandial asked attorney-general regarding the ECL policy and its beneficiaries. “The court wants to know about the changes in the policy of ECL and how will the people whose names are there on the list will be benefitted,” he said. “The system faces internal and external threats,” he stated.

The Supreme Court further asked the authorities to share the names of those individuals who have been removed from the ECL in the last six weeks, adding that if the policy has been changed then the apex court should be informed. The hearing was later adjourned till May 27.

A day earlier, the CJP had taken suo motu notice on the recommendations of a SC judge on perceived interference in the independence of the prosecution branch in the performance of its power and duties for investigation and prosecution of pending criminal matters involving persons in authority in government.

According to a press release issued by the apex court, such interference could influence the prosecution of cases, result in tampering or disappearing of evidence in courts or in possession of prosecuting agencies and lead to transfers and postings of officers on key posts.

The press release said that such actions, along with “media reports” about changes in accountability laws, were likely to “undermine” the functioning of the country’s criminal justice system.

“That [is tantamount] to violation of fundamental rights affecting the society as a whole and eroding [of] the confidence of the people in the rule of law and constitutionalism in the country,” it added.

The SC press release did not indicate which “pending criminal matters” it was referring to. However, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) is currently pursuing a money laundering case against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz, whose indictment has been delayed since February.

The notice also comes amid allegations levelled by the PTI that soon after coming into power, the present coalition government allegedly started influencing different cases and transferring investigators or officers supervising cases, especially related to corruption allegations.

It is also pertinent to mention here that key figures from within the allied parties of the new government have called for either complete dissolution of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) or amendments to the corruption watchdog’s laws.

On Tuesday, the cabinet consented to amending NAB’s “draconian laws” to do away with political victimisation. The meeting also constituted a committee, which would be headed by the federal law minister, for this purpose.