Friday, September 15, 2023
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In majority verdict, SC rules to restore graft cases against public office holders

Supreme Court directs NAB to return all cases' records to relevant courts within seven days

Left to right: Justice Ijazul Ahsan, CJP Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Mansoor Ali Shah. — SC Website/File
Left to right: Justice Ijazul Ahsan, CJP Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Mansoor Ali Shah. — SC Website/File

ISLAMABAD: A three-member bench of the Supreme Court in a majority 2-1 verdict on Friday approved Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan's petition challenging amendments made to the country's accountability laws during the tenure of the previous Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)-led government.

The three-member bench, headed by CJP Umar Ata Bandial, and comprising Justice Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, held more than 50 hearings on PTI chief Khan's petition against the amendments and reserved the judgment on the hearing on September 5.

CJP Bandial had promised that a "short and sweet verdict" would be announced before he retired — his last day as the apex court's top judge is September 16, (Sunday).

In the majority verdict today, the Supreme Court restored graft cases against public office holders that were closed down following the amendments. 

The apex court struck down some amendments made to the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999.

According to the verdict, the petition against NAB amendments was declared admissible by the majority decision, restoring all closed enquiries filed with the anti-graft body.

The apex court ordered restoring all graft cases worth less than Rs500 million that were closed down against the political leaders belonging to different political parties and public office holders and declared the amendments void. 

Furthermore, the court directed the NAB to return all records related to cases to relevant courts within seven days.

The verdict on Khan's appeal further added that the NAB amendments under question affected the rights of the public listed in the Constitution.

The verdict has some far-reaching consequences as the striking down of the amendments would mean that references against some of the country's political bigwigs will once again land in the accountability courts.

These include the Toshakhana reference against Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Supremo Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan Peoples Party Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, along with the LNG reference against former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and the rental power reference against former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.

However, Justice Shah issued a dissenting note in the NAB amendments case.

NAB amendments

The NAB amendments not only reduced the four-year term of the NAB chairman and the bureau’s prosecutor general to three years, but also placed all regulatory bodies functioning in the country out of NAB’s domain.

Furthermore, the changes included that a three-year term be set for the judges of the accountability courts and that courts be bound to decide a case within one year.

Challenging the amendments, Khan approached the apex court and petitioned that the amendments be struck down on grounds that they were unconstitutional.

The petition argued that amendments to sections 2, 4, 5, 6, 25 and 26 of the NAB law are against the Constitution, along with amendments made to sections 14, 15, 21 and 23.

Furthermore, Khan argued that amendments in the NAB law are contrary to the fundamental rights of Article 9, 14, 19, 24, 25.

All these amendments made in the NAB law should be declared null and void, the PTI Chairman PTI had requested.

To hear Khan's plea, a special 3-member bench was formed on July 15, 2022. The first hearing of the case against the NAB amendments was held on July 19 last year after Khan's lawyer Khawaja Haris filed an application 184/3 against the NAB amendments.

Both the federation and NAB were made parties in the petition.