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Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial on Tuesday said that many people’s businesses were destroyed due to the misuse of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) laws, following the amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999. 

The CJP made the remarks while hearing Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan’s petition against the recent amendments, wherein the deposed premier’s lawyer Khawaja Harris appeared before the court. 

Imran’s counsel maintained that people have to approach the courts when the executive fails to do their job.

Chief Justice Bandial said that the NAB amendment was made by the assembly which was incomplete at the time and highlighted that there was no law about an incomplete assembly’s ability to legislate.

He added that more than half of the National Assembly had boycotted the move because of the “political strategy”.

Justice Ijazul Ahsan said only a few benefited from NAB amendments and that an entire political party was running on “the line” given by a few people. “If you follow the line, it benefits only a few people,” he added.

He maintained that the NAB amendments were approved hastily, without discussion, and that if tweaks in law are made with “ill-intention then one should not proceed” with it. 

CJP Bandial remarked that corruption could not end despite court decisions and emphasised that not only corruption, but flaws were also present in the system.

“No attempt was ever made to fix the flaws in the system,” he said, adding that the parliament’s job is to enact and implement laws to improve the system, however, in Punjab a police inspector general is changed after five months and a station house office (SHO) is changed after three months.

“The law is not followed while making executive decisions,” he remarked.

He said that the decisions pertaining to Reko Diq and Steel Mills were made by the court in good faith and that the government could not catch the corruption in the projects due to the weakness of the system.

He stated that many people’s businesses were destroyed due to misuse of NAB law and iterated that corruption should not be pardoned under any circumstances.

The chief justice said that many issues had improved in Pakistan and that the country’s media was “free and presents the truth”.

Justice Mansoor Ali Shah said that Pakistan was 80th on the corruption index ranking prior to the NAB amendments and must have fallen by 100 points post them. 

Justice Ahsan agreed with his statement and said that when the system is collapsing, the judiciary intervenes. He asked under which authority could the court declare the NAB amendments null and void due to a conflict of interest.

Imran’s lawyer Haris said that the term “regulatory capture” is used to refer to legislation made for self-interest.

The CJP asked if the recent NAB amendments would then be called “parliamentary capture”, to which the lawyer stated that parliamentary capture was used in a different context.

WHY ARMY OUT OF AMBIT? A day earlier, the SC had asked the PTI to apprise it of its position on whether keeping the armed forces out of the ambit of the accountability law was a democratic act and how leaving parliament after being elected and seeking decisions through street power served democracy.

Justice Shah observed that “even judges are not out of the ambit of NAB” and asked the lawyer as to “what are the reasons for keeping the Army out from the ambit of NAB law.”

“Whether this process of keeping the army out of the ambit of NAB law is constitutional or unconstitutional in the eyes of PTI,” he asked the counsel. The judge asked the counsel to explain this today (Tuesday) during his course of arguments.

Earlier, Justice Shah asked the counsel for Imran that as to how democracy can flourish in the country when lawmakers prefer to take decision taking to the streets instead of sitting on the floor of the House.

“According to your arguments parliamentarians were the trustees of public then if a person gets millions of votes and say that he will take decisions on roads whether it’s a democracy,” he asked Khwaja Haris advocate.

“How democratic process will continue if the elected representatives leave parliament and take decisions on roads,” Justice Shah asked the PTI chairman’s counsel. He was of the opinion that if parliamentarians had won the trust of the public and elected then they should sit in parliament.

Khwaja Haris, while continuing his arguments, submitted that the Supreme Court had filled the legal vacuum in the matter of extension of Chief of Army Staff. He recalled that the apex court in the case of Asfandyar Wali Khan had declared the amendments null and void.

Justice Shah, however, observed that in the said case the court had declared the law null and void for being violation to fundamental rights. Justice Ahsan observed that the NAB law has become infructuous after omitting some provisions through the recent amendments under challenge.

“The petitioner in this case, while challenging the amendments, has prayed for restoring the law to its original shape,” Justice Ahsan remarked. But Justice Shah observed that the amendments made to those provisions of NAB law are not against fundamental rights.

CJP Bandial observed that the amendments made to NAB law are an improvement in the country’s law which was earlier criticised for having some flaws in it. “Under the law any person could be arrested and detained for 90 days on mere allegations,” the CJP remarked, adding that the recent amendments made to the law are a headway in the country’s law.

The counsel for Imran Khan, however, submitted that he was not in favour of any arrest in the criminal case or in NAB case during the course of investigation.

“We don’t want annulment of all the amendments made to the NAO 1999,” Khwaja Haris submitted but added that the intention of parliament for making amendments should also be looked into as well.

“In order to see the intention of parliament, we will have to see the debates made on the amendments under challenge”, Justice Shah observed. Khwaja Haris, however, submitted that no debate was held in parliament on the amendments.

Justice Shah observed that it was the stance of the Federation’s counsel that amendments were made in light of the judgments passed by the Supreme Court.

“Amendments to NAB law were not made on the basis of apex court’s judgments,” Khwaja Haris replied to which Justice Shah again asked as to whether public is also saying something against the amendments or the court should itself determine that the amendments have affected the public.

The judge observed that the NAB amendments were also challenged in Islamabad High Court (IHC) and asked the PTI counsel if it would be correct when the Supreme Court decides the case. Khwaja Haris replied that it was the choice of the petitioner, who approached the IHC.

The CJP observed that in Darshan Masih case, the public had approached the court for relief. “Whether the public has approached the court in NAB amendments case,” he asked the PTI counsel.

Khwaja Haris replied that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) had approached the Supreme Court in Darshan Masih case, adding that they wish that NGOs should also be established against corruption.

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