Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa instructed the government on Tuesday to ensure video link arrangements for incarcerated PTI founder Imran Khan to join proceedings of a case about changes to the country’s accountability laws and give his arguments.

A five-member bench led by the chief justice and comprising Supreme Court (SC) Justices Aminuddin Khan, Jamal Khan Mandokhail, Athar Minallah and Hasan Azhar Rizvi heard the case.

In 2022, amendments were made to the country’s accountability laws by the then-Pakistan Democratic Movement-led government. The amendments made several changes to the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999, including reducing the term of the NAB chairman and prosecutor general to three years, limiting NAB’s jurisdiction to cases involving over Rs500 million, and transferring all pending inquiries, investigations, and trials to the relevant authorities.

Imran had subsequently filed a petition in 2022 challenging the amendments, claiming that the changes to the NAB law were made to benefit the influential accused persons and legitimise corruption.

The petition had 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 convictions undone.

The SC had reserved its verdict in the case on September 5, 2023, after 53 hearings, with the members of a three-judge bench debating the power of parliament to enact legislation with retrospective effect. The apex court had subsequently on Sept 15 ordered the restoration of corruption cases against public office holders that were withdrawn after amendments were made to the country’s accountability laws and declared Imran’s plea to be maintainable.

However, CJP Isa had dropped hints in an October 31, 2023, hearing as the apex court took up intra-court appeals (ICA) against the Sept 15 judgement that since earlier proceedings did not to satisfy the requirements of the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act 2023, proceedings in the matter could be started afresh if the counsel managed to “make a solid case” for the same.

Though it refused to stay proceedings in corruption cases underway in accountability courts, the apex court restrained trial courts from announcing their final orders till the next hearing of the appeals in the matter.

The apex court was seized with a number of ICAs moved by the federal government as well as by a private citizen Zuhair Ahmed Siddiqui, who was an accused in a corruption case but not a party to the challenges to the NAB amendments case.

The larger bench also issued notices to respondent Imran with a direction that since he was incarcerated, the notice should be delivered to him through the jail superintendent concerned.

Today’s hearing

Justice Athar Minallah said that the PTI founder should be presented if he wanted to appear in a personal capacity, adding that Imran could not be denied his right to appear in front of the court since he was a party in the case.

“This is a matter concerning NAB and it is his right to appear in a personal capacity,” Justice Minallah said.

CJP Isa said that the matter was constitutional and not concerned with personal rights, questioning how a person who was not a lawyer would be helpful to the court in the matter.

“Our order was that he could present his arguments through his council,” the CJP said, following which the hearing was briefly adjourned.

After the break, the bench ordered to ensure Imran’s presence in court through a video link and said arrangements should be made for it accordingly.

The chief justice noted it was strange that Imran, who was a petitioner in the case and now a respondent in an appeal, was not present.

“If the PTI founder wants to give his arguments, he can give them through a video link,” CJP Isa said, adding that arrangements should be made for him to present his argument.

Consequently, CJP instructed the federal government to make arrangements for Imran’s appearance on Thursday (May 16) through a video link.

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