Supreme Court Judge expresses concern over zeal to identify faults in NAB amendments

Report on amendment-linked benefits submitted by NAB to apex court
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In a recent development, Supreme Court Justice Mansoor Ali Shah has raised concerns about the apparent eagerness to scrutinize and uncover flaws in the amendments made to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) laws. This observation came to light during a pivotal hearing regarding a petition filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, challenging the amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO).

The petition, which has garnered significant attention, is currently under the scrutiny of a three-member special bench consisting of Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, and Justice Shah.

Imran Khan’s challenge revolves around the National Accountability (Second Amendment) Act of 2022, enacted during the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz-led coalition government. The amendments, however, have sparked controversy, with a subsequent report submitted by the anti-corruption agency indicating that over 90 per cent of cases, including high-profile ones, had been resolved due to these changes.

The PTI strongly criticized the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) decision to endorse these amendments, characterizing it as an attempt to curtail the authority of the anti-graft agency. Furthermore, in July of the previous year, the federal cabinet introduced the National Accountability (Third Amendment) Bill for 2022, which further constrained NAB’s role in corruption cases involving sums exceeding Rs500 million. Additionally, it revoked the president’s power to appoint judges for the accountability court.

During earlier proceedings, Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial expressed doubts about the amendments, labelling them as “dubious.” In a noteworthy move, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah advocated for the formation of a full court to adjudicate on this matter. He emphasized the importance of the Supreme Court addressing the SC (Practice and Procedure) Act first.

During the recent hearing, Chief Justice Bandial underscored the urgency of resolving the issue, as a list of case details was already before the Supreme Court. He noted the limited time available due to it being Friday and directed the PTI counsel, Khawaja Haris, to conclude his arguments by midday.

In response, the additional attorney general requested time until Monday. However, Justice Ahsan dismissed this request, indicating the unavailability of court time and advised the attorney general to submit a written response instead.

Justice Shah, on the other hand, expressed his views on the democratic system, emphasizing its paramount importance in the Constitution of Pakistan. He questioned whether “17 unelected judges” of the apex court should have the authority to declare parliamentary legislation, ratified by the country’s 250 million citizens.

Justice Shah conveyed his apprehension that concerted efforts were being made to identify flaws in the NAB amendments. He suggested that the parliamentary and judicial systems should function independently, with the upcoming general elections offering an avenue for reversing these amendments.

Chief Justice Bandial lamented how the amendments had unfairly benefited certain business figures while causing harm to others. He highlighted instances where the NAB law had been misused against businessmen acting within the boundaries of the law.

Justice Shah remarked that it appeared that all efforts to pinpoint deficiencies in the NAB law had been exhausted, with little to show for it. He advocated for certain aspects to remain unchanged.

However, Chief Justice Bandial stressed that this matter pertained to fundamental rights and, therefore, warranted the court’s careful consideration. The PTI lawyer argued that the decision to remain in or leave parliament was a political one.

Justice Shah questioned the petitioner’s “good faith” and inquired about his constituency. Chief Justice Bandial commented on the perceived granting of relief from NAB akin to presidential pardons, enabling those with malicious intent.

The Supreme Court hearing regarding the NAB amendments has become a focal point of debate and deliberation. As the court adjourned the hearing until Tuesday, the question of whether the amendments will endure remains uncertain. The outcome of this case could have far-reaching implications for the accountability process in Pakistan.

Shaheer Gul Khan is a final-year student of English Literature at Government College University (GCU) Lahore. Strives to create a challenging and engaging environment having editor skills in freelancing, a goal-oriented. He can be reached at Twitter @HafizShaheerGu1.