ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court asked the counsel for the PTI chairman on Tuesday to explain how recent amendments to the accountability law had changed the basic structure of the Constitution.

A three-judge bench of the apex court decided to conduct a day-to-day hearing in the matter.

The bench is headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial and also comprises Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah. It resumed hearing on a petition filed by PTI chairman Imran Khan against recent amendments in the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), the law which governs the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

Imran Khan stated in his petition that the NAB amendments not only scrapped the cases against the prime minister, chief ministers, ministers and the president but also provided an opportunity to already convicted office-holders to get their conviction undone.

He requested the apex court to adjudicate upon questions of “great public importance” with reference to the enforcement of fundamental rights of citizens under different provisions of the Constitution, including Article 9 (security of a person), 14 (inviolability of dignity of a man,), 19A (right to information), 24 (protection of property rights), and 25 (equality of citizens).

Khawaja Haris, the PTI counsel, informed the apex court that trial courts across the country had started referring back pending cases, including those related to prominent politicians, to NAB after amendments in the accountability law.

Most of these references are related to offences which come within the purview of those sections of the accountability law that have been radically affected by the impugned amendments.

Khawaja Haris pointed out the NAO was derived from various anti-corruption laws promulgated from time to time.

Exemption from accountability

Justice Mansoor Ali Shah wondered why judges and the armed forces personnel were exempted from accountability.

Advocate Haris contended that the laws enacted during the tenure of dictators were draconian, but the laws legislated through parliament were comprehensive.

The counsel replied that individuals in these categories were subject to separate laws.

Khawaja Haris informed the Supreme Court that from 2018 to 2020 Rs18 billion was spent on investigation and inquiry of various cases. He pointed out that NAB claims to have recovered a huge amount through plea bargaining and voluntary return.

According to him, due to the recent amendments the entire amount of Rs18bn in public money had gone down the drain. At the same time, Khawaja Haris added, corruption references involving billions of rupees pending against former and incumbent holders of public office had come to naught.

“You mean to say that the amendments are in derogation to the standard that we have maintained over the long period,” Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial observed, addressing Khawaja Haris.

The PTI counsel argued that “accountability of public office-holders is necessary and we can’t close our eyes to corruption as it is destroying society”.

The NAB law amendment bill, along with the one on election reforms, was approved by the National Assembly and Senate in May this year, but President Arif Alvi returned the bill unsigned. On June 9, the government got the law passed through a joint sitting of parliament.

Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2022

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