ISLAMABAD: Justice Mansoor Ali Shah reiterated on Tuesday his previous request to the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) to either give a final verdict on the Supreme Court (SC) Practice and Procedure Act 2023 first or constitute a full bench to hear the Pakistan Tekreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) petition against the amendments made in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) law.
The government’s counsel also endorsed Justice Shah’s request.
A three-member bench comprising CJP Bandial, Justice Mansoor, and Justice Ijazul Ahsan resumed hearing Imran Khan’s plea against the NAB amendments.
The PTI chief had challenged the National Accountability (Second Amendment) Act 2022 passed by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz-led coalition government.
Later, a report submitted by the graft buster to the apex court revealed that the NAB ordinance had ended up solving over 90 per cent of the cases, including high-profile ones, that it was dealing with.
However, the PTI heavily criticised the PDM’s decision to approve the amendments, denouncing it as an attempt to limit the graft buster’s authority.
Further, in July of last year, the federal cabinet passed the National Accountability (Third Amendment) Bill for 2022. This bill further restricted NAB’s role in corruption cases involving amounts exceeding Rs500 million. Additionally, it rescinded the president’s ability to appoint judges for the accountability court.
During the last hearing, Justice Shah threw his weight behind the forming of a full court to decide the matter, emphasising the need for the apex court to decide the SC (Practice and Procedure) Act.
Referring to his note written in the military trial case where he had made the same suggestion, he said that the NAB amendments case should be heard by the full court.
Today, as the bench took up the matter again, CJP Bandial observed that through the SC (Practice and Procedure) Act, “the independence of the judiciary has been attacked and the foundations of this independence have been shaken”.
“A fellow judge of mine has referred to the SC (Practice and Procedure) Act. You may not know this but the Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) had spoken of inconsistencies between the SC (the Practice and Procedure) law and the SC (Review of Judgment) Law, on June 1, 2023. The AGP had asked the apex court for some time and on June 8, 2023, he said that after the budget session, the parliament will correct the law,” said CJP Bandial.
“I am unaware what the current (interim) government’s stance on the matter is,” the top judge added before questioning whether “hearings on all cases should be stopped on the basis of a suspended law’.
“The only other option is that the court continues to work and let the parliament decide,” said Justice Bandial.
“I regret to say this but it is only an impression that the law is in place,” he added, “because if it is indeed effective then why did they [the government] speak of amendments?”.
Upon this, the government’s lawyer urged the court to also proceed with “extreme precaution” before declaring any law null and void.
“We are not declaring any law as null and void,” responded the CJP, stressing that the law had for the first time in history interfered in the administrative affairs of the SC, “granting a remedy that is not available in the Constitution”. Still, CJP Bandial urged the government to submit its application on the SC (Practice and Procedure) Act, but in the same breath expressed reluctance in allowing “the courts to simply stop working” in the meantime.
Justice Ahsan said “we hope to see this law amended so that it is in line with the Constitution”.
Upon this Justice Shah reiterated his earlier stance saying “I request the CJP to give a decision on the SC (Practice and Procedure) Act before the NAB amendments issue. Otherwise, the SC should constitute a full court on this case”.
The federal government lawyer Makhdoom Ali Khan seconded the appeal to the CJP.
PTI’s lawyer Khawaja Haris raised the point that a five-member bench of the SC has given the decision and stated that only the CJP has the authority to form benches.
Speaking of the NAB law tweak, CJP Bandial observed that the PTI chief has centred his arguments on “dishonesty”. “He is of the opinion that through the NAB amendments, special exemptions have been given to some people and some provisions of the law have been removed by the NAB amendments” implying malafide intent.
Makhdoom Ali Khan however questioned the merits of this argument saying that “if an accused is not granted bail for 90 days when a reference is filed against them by NAB, then how is that connected with dishonesty?”
Justice Shah further observed that the parliament was a supreme body with the right to change and amend laws. “What does this have anything to do with honesty?” he asked.