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Supreme court justice asserts accountability laws apply to armed forces and judge

Islamabad, 30 October, 2023 (GNP): Supreme Court Justice Mansoor Ali Shah issued a notable dissenting opinion on Monday, emphasizing that members of the armed forces and judges of constitutional courts are “fully liable” under accountability laws.

This statement was made in the context of the Supreme Court’s September 15 verdict, which invalidated changes to the accountability laws and directed the restoration of corruption cases against public office holders.

The verdict was given by a three-member bench, including then-Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, and Justice Shah. Justice Bandial and Justice Ahsan had found Imran Khan’s plea challenging amendments to the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) laws to be maintainable.

In contrast, Justice Shah dissented from the majority opinion, arguing that not only should corruption cases be restored but also inquiries and investigations.

Justice Shah had repeatedly advocated for a full court to hear the case during the proceedings, citing the then-frozen Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) law.

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The Supreme Court is now set to hear the first-ever intra-court appeals (ICAs) against the majority judgment, filed by the federal government and former SSGCL Managing Director Zuhair Ahmed Siddiqui.

In his detailed note, Justice Shah concluded that Imran Khan’s petition was “meritless” and that the petitioner’s counsel failed to establish that the challenged amendments in the NAB Ordinance were constitutionally invalid in terms of fundamental rights.

Addressing the accountability of members of the armed forces and judges, Justice Shah stated that the common belief that they are not subject to anti-corruption laws needs clarification.

He argued that this perspective would make these individuals untouchable and above the law, which would be unacceptable and detrimental to the country’s reputation.

Justice Shah emphasized that members of the armed forces and judges of constitutional courts are fully liable under the NAB Ordinance, similar to any other public servant of Pakistan.

He noted that public office holders remain triable under other laws, and the amendments do not infringe upon their fundamental rights.

Furthermore, Justice Shah stated that the determination of the threshold value for offenses to be investigated and tried under the NAB Ordinance is within the legislative domain and should not be decided by the courts. He asserted that such determinations are a matter for the Parliament to address, not the judiciary.

Justice Shah also underscored that the amendments do not infringe upon fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, and it is not the court’s role to interpret these changes as an infringement. He emphasized that the courts should construe fundamental rights liberally and progressively but within the context of the law.

This detailed dissenting opinion has important implications for the accountability of public officials in Pakistan and underscores the principle that the law applies equally to all citizens, including members of the armed forces and judges.