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NAB Case: SC allows Imran Khan to appear via video link

Islamabad, 14 May 2024, (GNP): The Supreme Court of Pakistan directed the federal and Punjab governments to set up a video-link system for imprisoned Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) founder Imran Khan. This would enable him to present his arguments in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) amendment case.

“The PTI founder can present his arguments in the upcoming hearing via video link if he wishes to do so […] arrangements should be made for presentation of arguments via video link,” Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa said.

During the hearing of the federal government’s intra-court appeal against the Supreme Court’s 2023 decision to invalidate certain NAB amendments, Chief Justice Isa made remarks regarding Imran Khan’s desire to present his own arguments in the case.

The five-member larger bench, led by Chief Justice Isa, includes Justices Amin-ud-Din Khan, Jamal Khan Mandokhail, Athar Minallah, and Hasan Azhar Rizvi.

This hearing follows a three-member bench’s approval in September 2023 of former Prime Minister Khan’s petition challenging accountability law amendments made during the previous Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)-led government.

Chaired by then-Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, with Justices Mansoor Ali Shah and Ijazul Ahsan, the court, in a majority 2-1 verdict, reinstated graft cases against public office holders closed due to the amendments.

The apex court ordered the revival of all graft cases worth less than Rs500 million against political leaders and public office holders, declaring the amendments void.

This decision has significant implications, as it means references against several political figures will return to the accountability courts.

These references include the Toshakhana case against PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari, and former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, as well as the LNG case against former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and the rental power case against another former premier, Raja Pervez Ashraf.

In response to the verdict, the federal government filed an appeal under Section 5 of the Supreme Court law against the apex court’s decision. The previous hearing of the case was held on October 31, where it was adjourned indefinitely. Today marks the first hearing since then.

Today’s hearing 

At the start of the hearing, Chief Justice Isa announced that today’s proceedings would focus strictly on legal points, emphasizing that the case concerns the validity of the amendments related to the anti-graft watchdog.

With Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s advocate general supporting the Supreme Court’s decision against the NAB amendments, the attorney general, representing the federal government, defended the amendments passed by Parliament.

Justice Minallah questioned the federal government’s standing in the case, stating that only an affected party can appeal a verdict. He emphasized that this appeal does not meet the criteria set by the Benazir case.

Additionally, Chief Justice Isa highlighted the importance of the president providing reasons for issuing an ordinance, while Justice Mandokhail stated that the federal government must justify the necessity of passing the ordinance.

Expressing concern that NAB was used for political purposes, Justice Minallah requested the anti-graft body to inform the court about the number of politicians pursued and imprisoned over the past decade.

The judge also instructed the attorney general to ensure that the video link for Imran Khan’s participation is functional.

The court then adjourned the case until May 16.

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NAB amendments

The NAB amendments not only shortened the term of the NAB chairman and prosecutor general from four years to three but also excluded all regulatory bodies from NAB’s jurisdiction.

Additionally, the amendments mandated a three-year term for accountability court judges and required cases to be decided within one year.

In response, the PTI founder challenged these amendments in the Supreme Court, arguing that they were unconstitutional. The petition targeted amendments to various sections of the NAB law and contended that they violated fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Imran Khan’s plea was heard by a special three-member bench formed on July 15, 2022. The first hearing took place on July 19 of the same year, following an application filed by Khan’s lawyer, Khawaja Haris, against the NAB amendments. Both the federal government and NAB were named as respondents in the petition.