Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial on Tuesday looked forward to “receiving good news” from the Pakistan cricket team as the top court expressed excitement over the upcoming thriller T20 World Cup semi-final between Pakistan and New Zealand.

The off-topic remark was made by the chief justice as the SC took up a petition filed by PTI chief Imran Khan challenging the recent amendments to anti-graft laws. A three-member bench comprising Justice Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah heard the plea.

Towards the end of the hearing today, government counsel Makhdoom Ali Khan brought up Pakistan’s miraculous qualification to the semi-final of the T20 World Cup.

“The team reaching the semi-finals is nothing less than a miracle,” he said.

He urged the court to not schedule the next hearing at 1pm on Wednesday as that is when the national cricket team has to face New Zealand in the World Cup.

At that, the CJP said that he wasn’t aware of the match. According to a Dawn.com correspondent present in the court, the CJP, with a smile on his face, then enquired about the timing of the match.

“If you say, we will install a screen outside the Supreme Court for you to watch the match,” he playfully offered.

However, the government counsel’s request was turned down as Imran’s lawyer Khwaja Haris opposed it and argued that enough time had already lapsed.

“Haris sahab, just leave one day […] we know you’re a fan of cricket too,” Justice Shah said here.

Meanwhile, Justice Ahsan said that Pakistan reaching the semifinals was a “national miracle”.

Justice Shah, continuing the conversation, said that the court could watch the match while the lawyer presented their argument. At this, those in attendance burst into laughter.

“Let’s hope we receive good news tomorrow,” the chief justice remarked, adding that the hearing on Nov 9 would be wrapped up early.

Arguments on NAB amendments

Earlier in the day, Imran’s lawyer Khwaja Haris presented his arguments on the PTI chairman’s plea challenging the recent amendments to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

Haris referred to a United Nations (UN) resolution against corruption that Pakistan had previously signed. “And the recent changes to the law would be a violation of the resolution.”

Here, Justice Shah asked if an international resolution could be used to stop the parliament from legislating. “Not letting the parliament legislate may also affect fundamental rights.”

Meanwhile, Justice Ahsan wondered why favoritism was shown under the new NAB laws without any explanation. “If tomorrow permission is given to take bribes, will no one stop it,” he asked.

The judge then added that there was no crime in a third party benefitting from the new amendments.

Subsequently, the CJP pointed out that Haris’ arguments made it seem like Pakistan was a “jungle” where no “rule of law” existed and adjourned the hearing till Nov 9.

Imran’s petition

In his petition, Imran Khan had claimed that the amendments to the NAB law were made to benefit influential accused persons and legitimise corruption.

The coalition government led by the PML-N had introduced 27 key amendments to NAO, but President Dr Arif Alvi did not accord his assent to these. However, the bill was adopted in a joint sitting of parliament and notified later.

The petition pleaded that the fresh amendments tend to scrap corruption cases against the president, prime minister, chief ministers and ministers and provide an opportunity to the convicted public office-holders to get their conviction undone.

“The amendments to the NAO is tantamount to depriving the citizens of Pakistan of having access to law to effectively question their chosen representatives in case of breach of their duty towards the people of Pakistan,” the petition argued.

Moreover, the word “benamidar” has been re-defined, making it difficult for the prosecution to prove someone as fictitious owner of a property, the petition argued.

The application has also challenged the second amendment to the law done by the coalition government on Aug 16 in which offences involving misappropriation of less than Rs500 million were taken out of the purview of the law.

Moreover, absconders who were punished under Section 31 of the ordinance in absentia were also taken out.

The petition stated that most of the changes were ‘person specific’.

The petitioner pleaded that it would be just and fair in protecting the constitutional and fundamental rights of the citizens that NAB should be asked to provide details of all cases, which relate to prominent and influential holders of public office, especially regarding cases pertaining to offences of owning assets (movable and immovable) beyond known sources of income and misuse of authority.

However, the petitioner feared, the recent amendments operated to preemptively exonerate public office holders or their co-conspirators from offences of corruption.

The petition claimed the amendments were also ultra vires of the fundamental rights guaranteed to people in articles 9, 14, 18, 24 and 25 of the Constitution.

NAB law amendment

The NAB (Second Amendment) Bill 2021 states that NAB’s deputy chairman, to be appointed by the federal government, would become the acting chairman of the bureau following the completion of the tenure of the chairman.

The bill has also reduced the four-year term of the NAB chairman and the bureau’s prosecutor general to three years. After approval of the law, NAB will not be able to act on federal, provincial or local tax matters. Moreover, the regulatory bodies functioning in the country have also been placed out of NAB’s domain.

It says that “all pending inquiries, investigations, trials or proceedings under this ordinance, relating to persons or transactions … shall stand transferred to the concerned authorities, departments and courts under the respective laws.”

It has also set a three-year term for the judges of the accountability courts. It will also make it binding upon the courts to decide a case within one year. Under the proposed law, it has been made binding upon NAB to ensure the availability of evidence against an accused prior to his or her arrest.

According to one of the key amendments, the act “shall be deemed to have taken effect on and from the commencement of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999”.

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