ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Friday cautioned the federal government to ensure that no “extraneous” parties should influence the upcoming appointment of the National Accountability Bureau chairman.

Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, who was heading a five-judge SC bench, while pointing towards Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Ashtar Ausaf observed that one way of ensuring quality of governance in the country was the appointment of quality advisers.

The observations came during the suo motu hearing regarding apprehensions of undermining criminal justice system by persons in authority.

“Please appoint men of integrity and competence instead of giving favours in exchange,” CJP observed while emphasising that the appointment should be made in a fair and transparent manner instead of being influenced by outside persons as had happened in the past.

CJP wants NAB to close old cases that show no progress after evaluation

CJP also asked Prosecutor General NAB Syed Asghar Haider to consider closing old cases which were dragging on for long after proper evaluation. However, he observed that this did not mean that cases should be thrown away just like that.

The observation came when PG-NAB told the court that the evaluation process could be initiated only after the appointment of new NAB chairman.

CJP emphasised that the intention behind taking the case was to ensure that the process of law be followed strictly, while adding that the court did not want to interfere in executive actions.

CJP said it was known that one of the cabinet members on the Exit Control List (ECL) was tasked with an important role in terms of finances but cautioned that the government should make corrective measures regarding amendments in the ECL law or else it would issue an order.

It embarrasses the court when during the trial the prosecutor comes up with a plea that he could not find the case record, CJP regretted.

When there is no cognizable material which could lead to a conviction, then the prosecution should not refer such matters to the courts as it may drag on because the material was lost, the witnesses were won over or silenced and the accused were released on bail without even recording of evidence, CJP observed adding that the sanctity and security of the evidence should be guaranteed.

CJP said that if the prosecutors face any pressure, they should drop a note and the apex court will take care of it.

Referring to the report of the World Justice Project titled Rule of Law Index in which the justice system of Pakistan was ranked 130th out of 139 countries in 2021, CJP observed that it was not true since the report was based on perception and not on real data. He also said that we were conscious of the backlog of cases and know that people were languishing in jails for over 10 years without any fault.

Why send people to jail without any concrete evidence, CJP regretted while asking NAB to be selective.

Both the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and NAB should make an informed decision not to burden the system, the CJP observed, while ordering both institutions to coordinate with AGP and make an evaluation on case-to-case basis.

During the hearing Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan, a member of the bench, asked DG-FIA Rai Tahir to furnish complete record of the high-profile cases to the SC so that it could be secured.

DG-FIA told the court that the agency had categorised 42 cases that fell within the category of high-profile cases in which corruption up to a billion rupees had been committed.

Additional Attorney General (AAG) Chaudhry Aamir Rehman said 23 people, wanted in different cases and whose names were on the ECL, had gone abroad but had returned whereas seven were still outside. However, he said he would furnish a fresh list before the court.

AGP assured the court that he would take back the matter and procedural lapses, if any, while amending the Exit from Pakistan (Control) Rules, 2010 would be rectified. He also emphasised that in his opinion the practice of maintaining ECL should be done away with since freedom of movement was a fundamental right.

The court also expressed concern over the removal of 174 people from the ECL without consulting NAB.

CJP observed that discretion should not be abused rather used in a transparent manner. NAB had been given draconian powers but there were reasons for this, while successive governments never changed it since 1999.

“We cannot just ignore NAB law or allow it to be decimated,” CJP said, adding that the court was keeping an eye on the changes being made by the government in the law.

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2022

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