Accountability was a fundamental principle of Islam. Justice Ahsan Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah says Imran Khan could have raised objections to new NAB law if he had stayed in the assembly

Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah says Imran Khan could have raised objections to new NAB law if he had stayed in the assembly

ISLAMABAD ( Web News )

Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday observed that former prime minister and Chairman Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf  Imran Khan could have take up all his questions concerning NAB amendments in the Assembly.

A three-member SC bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah conducted hearing of a petition filed by Chairman Pakistan Tehreek-e-insaf (PTI) Imran Khan against amendments in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Ordinance 1999.

At the outset of the hearing, NAB informed the court about adopting the stance of the Attorney General for Pakistan Ashtar Ausaf Ali in the case.

“People had put their trust in Imran Khan and sent him to the Assembly. How and why could he leave the assembly without the will of people in his constituency,” Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah remarked.

He said that the former prime minister could have raised objections to the new NAB law if he had stayed in the assembly. The remark came in response to Imran Khan’s lawyer Khawaja Haris Ahmad’s arguments that the elected representatives of the people could only approach the courts if the works are not done in the respective constituencies.

Imran Khan’s lawyer Khawaja Haris maintained that the accountability laws have been present since 1949. “None of the in the accountability laws have given an exemption to the public representatives,” he said, adding that NAB laws were made ineffective through amendments.

At this, Justice Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah inquired what could the apex court do if the parliament abolishes the NAB law. “Has the SC ever issued an order to restore an abolished law,” he asked. At this, Haris informed the court that the apex court had ordered to restore a law abolished in 1990. “Your petitioner has brought the amendments to court but he could have trusted the Parliament and stayed in it,” Justice Shah remarked.

At this, Haris replied that the government gets the laws passed on the basis of its majority. Haris also presented arguments over the major changes in laws regarding plea bargain. “The accused can seek plea bargain money back after acquittal,” Haris said. At this, Justice Umar Ata Bandial remarked that if this was the case, the State would have to pay billions of rupees.

At one point during the hearing, CJP Bandial remarked that the parliament was only submissive towards the Constitution and shariah.

Justice Ahsan concurred and said that accountability was a fundamental principle of Islam.

Continuing his arguments, Haris said that important changes had been made to the accountability laws regarding plea bargains. “Those who do not pay instalments of the plea bargain have been facilitated [under the new law].”

The lawyer contended that earlier, action was taken against those who failed to pay the plea bargains. “After the amendment, the plea bargain of the non-payer will expire,” he said, adding that if the corruption case was regarding an amount of less than Rs50 million, the charges against the accused would be automatically removed.

“Under the amendment, the accused can claim the amount of plea bargain deposited after being acquitted,” he pointed out. “A person who has paid the full plea bargain amount can also ask for the money deposited.”

Here, Justice Bandial observed that this way the state would have to pay billions of rupees.

Justice Shah also wondered if taking money from the accused under pressure was correct. To this, Haris replied that the plea bargain was only approved by the accountability court.

“But if the accused is under pressure, they can let the court know,” the lawyer added.

Later, the court adjourned the hearing till 12:30 PM today (Thursday). The apex court is holding hearings on the Imran Khan’s plea on a daily basis.

In his petition, Imran Khan had claimed that the amendments to the NAB law were made to benefit the influential accused persons and legitimise corruption.

The coalition government led by the PML-N had introduced 27 key amendments to NAO, but President Dr. Arif Alvi did not accord his assent to these. However, the bill was adopted in a joint sitting of parliament and notified later.

The petition pleaded that the fresh amendments tend to scrap corruption cases against the president, prime minister, chief ministers and ministers and provide an opportunity to the convicted public office-holders to get their conviction undone.

“The amendments to the NAO is tantamount to depriving the citizens of Pakistan of having access to law to effectively question their chosen representatives in case of breach of their duty towards the people of Pakistan,” the petition argued.

Moreover, the word “benamidar” has been re-defined, making it difficult for the prosecution to prove someone as fictitious owner of a property, the petition argued.

The application has also challenged the second amendment to the law done by the coalition government on Aug 16 in which offences involving misappropriation of less than Rs500 million were taken out of the purview of the law.

Moreover, absconders who were punished under Section 31 of the ordinance in absentia were also taken out. The petition stated that most of the changes were ‘person specific’.

The petitioner pleaded that it would be just and fair in protecting the constitutional and fundamental rights of the citizens that NAB should be asked to provide details of all cases, which relate to prominent and influential holders of public office, especially regarding cases pertaining to offences of owning assets (movable and immovable) beyond known sources of income and misuse of authority.

However, the petitioner feared, the recent amendments operated to preemptively exonerate public office holders or their co-conspirators from offences of corruption.

The petition claimed the amendments were also ultra vires of the fundamental rights guaranteed to people in articles 9, 14, 18, 24 and 25 of the Constitution.

The NAB (Second Amendment) Bill 2021 states that NAB’s deputy chairman, to be appointed by the federal government, would become the acting chairman of the bureau following the completion of the tenure of the chairman.

The bill has also reduced the four-year term of the NAB chairman and the bureau’s prosecutor general to three years. After approval of the law, NAB will not be able to act on federal, provincial or local tax matters. Moreover, the regulatory bodies functioning in the country have also been placed out of NAB’s domain.

It says that “all pending inquiries, investigations, trials or proceedings under this ordinance, relating to persons or transactions … shall stand transferred to the concerned authorities, departments and courts under the respective laws.”

It has also set a three-year term for the judges of the accountability courts. It will also make it binding upon the courts to decide a case within one year. Under the proposed law, it has been made binding upon NAB to ensure the availability of evidence against an accused prior to his or her arrest.

According to one of the key amendments, the act “shall be deemed to have taken effect on and from the commencement of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999”.