ISLAMABAD: The federal government informed the Supreme Court on Thursday that a staggering Rs2.86 billion per year would be needed to establish 120 new accountability courts as desired by the top court.
A three-page report furnished on behalf of the secretary of law and justice informed the court that a huge amount of Rs23.87 million annually was needed to set up one accountability court.
But a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed declined to accept the explanation and ordered the secretary of law ministry to get approval from the federal cabinet for the establishment of 120 accountability courts and then commence the process of appointment of accountability judges within one month.
The report was furnished in compliance with an earlier directive of the Supreme Court which on July 8 had directed the law secretary to seek instructions for setting up of at least 120 accountability courts to clear huge backlog of cases.
Govt says five vacancies of accountability judges have been filled
The Supreme Court is seized with a suo motu case regarding delay in trials before the accountability courts, in the light of Section 16 of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999, which asks for deciding corruption matters within 30 days.
The suo motu proceedings were initiated when Justice Mushir Alam on Jan 8 had requested the chief justice to constitute a special bench and initiate suo motu proceedings over delay in prosecuting the accused in the trial courts.
At the last hearing, the chief justice had issued directives for creation of 120 new accountability courts after expressing dismay over 1,226 references pending since 2000 as well as vacancies in five accountability courts out of a total of 25.
However, the federal government explained that in total 975 corruption references were pending before 24 accountability courts, the highest number at the accountability court of Multan with 80 cases, followed by 56 at the Karachi accountability court.
On Thursday the Supreme Court also ordered the authorities to develop complete infrastructure of the accountability courts and frame relevant NAB rules within one month. The NAB rules, which have to be made under Section 34 of the NAO, could not be framed even after the lapse of 21 years.
During the proceedings, Prosecutor General (PG) of NAB Syed Asghar Haider said the chairman and the PG of the bureau were receiving threats. Even a prosecutor in Rawalpindi escaped an assassination attempt in Rawalpindi but police were reluctant to register a case about the firing incident.
The PG also surprised the court by saying the federal government was hesitant to release appropriate funds to NAB and that the salaries and perks and privileges of NAB prosecutors were at the bottom whereas accused parties engaged towering personalities to defend them.
“We could only appoint successful lawyers as prosecutors if we are provided adequate funds,” the PG said, adding they (NAB prosecutors) got strength only from the Supreme Court and it seemed everybody was against them nowadays.
“Despite adverse circumstances we are trying to get our prosecutors trained by New York and British police and have still managed to get punishments against 61 culprits,” the PG said.
However, the chief justice regretted that NAB forwarded half- baked references replete with errors to the accountability courts making it difficult for the courts to decide the cases. The chief justice also cautioned the government that it did not have much time since cases were pending for the last 20 years.
The chief justice was also bitter that NAB while sending a reference to a court nominated 50 people as witnesses instead of identifying one quality witness. As a result the accused has to spend a life time waiting decision of his case.
Meanwhile, the government report also stated that the establishment of accountability courts required clearance for the creation of the posts from the establishment and finance divisions. Moreover the decision also requires approval of the budget and supplementary grant from the finance division and the federal cabinet.
In addition a final approval was also required by the federal cabinet for establishment of new courts, the report said, adding the law ministry was starting consultation with the stakeholders for establishment of new accountability courts.
The report said the five vacant posts of accountability judges had been filled through a notification of July 14.
Earlier the court had warned that it expected that the law secretary would fill the posts of five accountability judges within one week or the court would take coercive action against the officials, found defaulting in the performance of their duties.
The report explained that the statutory requirements for appointment of a judge of accountability court and for establishment of new accountability court were provided under Section 5(g) and (h) and Section 16(b) of the NAO 1999.
Under Section 5 (g), a judge of the accountability court was appointed by the president in consultation with the concerned chief justice of the high court for three years.
Similarly Section 5(h) suggests that an accountability judge should be a serving district and sessions judge and qualified to be appointed as a judge of high court.
Whereas Section 16(b) says that the accountability court will sit at place or places as the federal government orders or specifies.
The case was adjourned for a month.
Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2020