ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial observed on Friday that Article 248 of the Constitution, which gives immunity to the president, governors or ministers, did not exempt ministers from appearing before courts in criminal cases.

“Our only concern is that the criminal justice system should proceed satisfactorily and efficiently since any exemption to the accused senior members of the government would become questionable and therefore should be avoided,” obser­ved the CJP who was heading a five-judge Supreme Court bench that had taken up a case suo motu relating to apprehensions of undermining the criminal justice system through influence.

Attorney General (AGP) Ashtar Ausaf told the bench that top government functionaries, namely PM Shehbaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz, were appearing before the courts concerned.

CJP Bandial told the AGP that the court was not nullifying any decision of the government, but the May 19 restraining order will remain in the field about transfers, postings or removal of those involved in investigation or prosecution of high-profile cases against top government functionaries, including the PM and CM, pending before courts of special judge (central) and accountability courts.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s counsel Irfan Qadir told the SC bench that an inference was being drawn outside the court could be influenced by the exchange of rhetoric between political parties.

Mr Qadir, who appeared before the apex court briefly, contended that the present case was very important and he had come with two briefs — one on law and the other on conscience. He said it would be helpful in assisting the court if written queries were framed.

The court asked the counsel to furnish written submissions and retired for the day.

When asked by the media after the proceedings why the court rose suddenly when he appeared at the rostrum, Mr Qadir said he would give full benefit of doubt to the court since today was Friday and the court had to retire early for Juma prayers.

However, he said the court was very receptive and he was sure that it would understand whatever he wanted to explain before it.

During the hearing, CJP Bandial observed that the court didn’t want to go into the person of political individuals in the government but was only looking at the systemic protection. The court also did not want to interfere in the executive’s domain, he said.

“The court is not pushing but only wants to see that the criminal justice system should function in a fair, consistent and impartial manner,” CJP observed.

The court wondered why an amendment was made to the Exit Control Rules 2010 on April 22, whereby allegations of corruption and misuse of authority, as well as economic crimes were deleted.

The court was informed that the names of 174 individuals had been removed from the ECL, including those of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2022

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