ISLAMABAD: Islamabad High Court Bar Association (IHCBA) President Shuaib Shaheen on Monday filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) challenging the recent amendments to the accountability law concerning the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

The petition was opposed by the elected representatives of the IHCBA, including the vice president, secretary and finance secretary, who distanced themselves from the petition while calling it a personal action of the bar chief.

IHCBA Secretary Saad Rajput told Dawn that the petition had been filed without “mandatory approval of the executive committee and it should be treated as petition in person”. The lead counsel in the petition is renowned lawyer Hamid Khan.

Interestingly, the petition carries certain paragraphs of a similar petition against changes to the law filed by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan in the Supreme Court which had been returned by the registrar of the top court with objections.

Files petition with high court; senior bar office-bearers distance themselves from plea

Mr Khan through his counsel Khawaja Haris subsequently filed an appeal against the objections.

Mr Haris took exception to the IHCBA petition and said that it was not only “a verbatim appropriation of grounds taken in Imran Khan’s petition” but it also “sabotages appeal against the registrar’s order”.

“This is reckless,” he said while criticising the IHCBA chief.

Plea against NAB amendments

The petition filed in the IHC said people of Pakistan “have delegated their authority to run the affairs of the government to their elected representatives to be exercised by the latter as a sacred trust, it is the right of the people to hold their elected representatives accountable for their actions”.

It added that “accountability of political actions takes place at the time of elections, and is dependent upon laws that ensure free and fair elections, accountability for legal or administrative actions is available to the people by way of judicial review”.

“Can the elected representatives of the people of Pakistan be allowed to deprive the people of Pakistan from holding their chosen representatives accountable by altogether withdrawing the

accountability laws from the statute book, or by weakening the efficacy of the accountability laws to such an extent to make these completely ineffectual or merely ornamental,” the petitioner asked.

“If answer to the aforementioned question is in the affirmative, whether making accountability law weak and ineffectual is not a breach of this salient feature of the Constitution, hence violative of the Constitution, and, therefore, liable to be declared as bad law and struck down as such,” the petition added.

As per the petition “The right to have access to justice in the matter of exercising their right to hold their chosen representative accountable for their actions involving corruption or corrupt practices and, as such, the impugned amendments, whereby the accountability process stands derailed as above, are liable to be struck down.”

It referred to Article2-A saying that people had the “right to question their chosen representatives”. The petition added that the amendments “deprived” the citizens of their right to question their elected representatives; therefore, it violated “fundamental right to life, dignity and protection of property as guaranteed by Articles 9, 14 and 24”. It pointed out that the NAB’s amendments “taken away the most serious and bulk of white collar crimes out of the pale of law and made them immune from criminal prosecution”.

Discussing omission of Section 14 from the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999, which enabled conviction on presumption and had shifted onus of proof on the accused, the petition said that the federation “ensured that it becomes impossible for the prosecution to prove white collar crimes against the holders of public office”.

The petition highlighted that an amendment has changed the scope of offence “misuse of authority” and “is tantamount to denying accountability” as it does not recognise the commission of such offence in cases where illegal benefit to a person is proved but not [an] exchange of money for such benefit.”

The petition questioned the ‘blanket immunity’ to officials of all regulatory bodies even though these bodies “deal with the matters vital to the financial interests”.

An amendment to disqualify “approver to hold the public office” will discourage testifying against influential accused persons, it added.

The petition stated that the amendments have been introduced by the alleged beneficiaries and requested the court to seek details of pending cases, investigations and inquiries against the influential figures.

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2022

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