The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Thursday barred authorities from transferring and making new appointments in high-profile cases related to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) as well as those heard by special courts.
The orders came from the top court during the hearing of a suo motu case on the perceived apprehension of “persons in authority” undermining the criminal justice system.
A five-judge larger bench, comprising CJP Bandial Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan, Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, and Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar heard the case and issued notices to Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) director-general, NAB chairman, and interior secretary.
A day earlier, CJP Ata Bandial took the notice of perceived interference in the “independence of the prosecution branch in the performance of its powers and duties for the investigation and prosecution of pending criminal matters involving persons in authority in the government”.
The chief justice took notice of the perceived interference on the recommendations of a judge belonging to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the statement issued by the apex court said.
At the outset of today’s hearing, Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial expressed concerns over transfers and appointments of officials in high-profile cases refraining prosecution from withdrawing such cases.
The chief justice noted that several officers were transferred from NAB Lahore and FIA, adding that the FIA’s prosecutor in the Lahore High Court was also replaced. The court further maintained that DG FIA Sanaullah Abbasi and director Rizwan were also replaced.
Referring to Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz’s case, CJP Bandial mentioned that the DG FIA barred one of the investigation officers to appear before the court.
“Nobody should interfere during the investigation and in the affairs of the prosecution branch,” the chief justice told the attorney-general.
As per the Constitution, the SC is responsible to maintain peace and an atmosphere of trust in the society, the chief justice remarked.
While referring to recent developments in cases related to the prime minister and the Punjab chief minister, Justice Ijazul Ahsan stated that FIA declared it “routine matters”.
At this, the CJP hoped that the government will cooperate in explaining the steps. As per the media reports, NAB’s record about the criminal cases has started going missing, he said, adding that the watchdog’s record in at least four cases went missing.
The apex court further demanded an explanation regarding the transfer and appointment of an investigation officer in Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and son Hamza Shahbaz’s case.
CJP Bandial directed authorities concerned to seal the investigation and prosecution record of all the pending high-profile cases.
The apex court also issued notice to prosecutor generals of all four provinces, head of prosecution FIA and NAB DGs of all provinces.
Regarding a change in the policy related to the removal of names from the exit control list (ECL), the chief justice mentioned that according to new stories published in leading newspapers 3,000 people will benefit from the policy change.
CJP Bandial asked attorney-general regarding the ECL policy and its beneficiaries. “The court wants to know about the changes in the policy of ECL and how will the people whose names are there on the list will be benefitted,” he said.
“The system faces internal and external threats,” he stated.
The Supreme Court further asked the authorities to share the names of those individuals who have been removed from the ECL in the last six weeks, adding that if the policy has been changed then the apex court should be informed.
“Our investigation aims to serve justice while maintaining the dignity, honour and respect of the investigation process,” CJP Bandial said, adding that investigation is not for point-scoring.
‘Neither need praise nor afraid of criticism’
“We are accountable to Allah and the Constitution,” Bandial said, adding that they will not be influenced by any kind of criticism.
He maintained, “We are not afraid of criticism and do not need praise.” The CJP said that they wanted the provision of justice to the people.
Talking about the “strong” social media cells of the political parties, the chief justice said that they have been observing it silently. He warned that nobody should try to play with the judicial system.
Meanwhile, the SC bench also sought a reply from the government over transfers and postings in NAB, FIA, and investigation and prosecution departments made during the last six weeks.
Referring to the media reports about the missing record, the top court ordered to submit a report about the steps relating to the safety of the record. The court ordered to check the record of high-profile cases with the NAB and the FIA and submit the report to the competent authority.
CJP Bandial also ordered the authorities to seal the record of high-profile cases being heard in different courts.
At this, the attorney general said that the proceedings of under-trial cases will stop by sealing the record. “We are not asking to seal the record of under-trial cases, we have asked to seal the investigation and prosecution record,” replied the CJP.