The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Thursday barred authorities from making any new appointments or transferring officials involved in “high-profile” cases, including those pending before the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and being heard by special courts.
While hearing a suo moto case on the “perceived apprehensions” that cases regarding “persons in authority” in the incumbent government were undermining the country’s criminal justice system, a five-member bench led by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial issued notices to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) director general; the NAB chairman; and the interior secretary to provide testimony that there was no government interference in the ongoing criminal cases. Similar notices were also issued to all provincial prosecutor generals and the FIA’s legal director.
During the hearing, the CJP said there should be “no interference in the prosecution process or the prosecution wing.” Referring to media reports and speeches by ousted prime minister Imran Khan, he said that former FIA director Mohammad Rizwan—who had been probing money laundering charges against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz—had been transferred shortly before he died of a heart attack.
“We are concerned over these developments,” he said, adding that news reports also suggested that “thousands” had benefited from a new policy regarding the Exit Control List. “We have been seeing such news reports for the past one month. This has an effect on the rule of law,” he said and sought details on the new policy, a list of people who had benefited from it, and what changes had been done to it by the incumbent government.
Maintaining that the apex court’s responsibility was to maintain peace and trust in society under the Constitution, he said that the suo moto notice was not meant to embarrass or hold anyone responsible. “This is meant to protect the criminal justice system and the rule of law,” he said, adding that the court wants the implementation of Article 10A (right to fair trial), Article 4 (due process), and Article 25 (equality of citizens). He also expressed the hope that the federal government would cooperate in providing an explanation to the court’s queries.
“We are accountable to Allah and the Constitution,” the CJP said, claiming that the judges would not be influenced by any kind of criticism. “We are not afraid of criticism and do not need praise,” he said, seemingly in response to concerns on social media that the judiciary has “come under pressure” from the PTI’s recent harangues against its rulings.
Referring to the media reports about “missing” record of cases, the top court sought a report on the steps being taken to ensure all records were secure. The CJP also ordered authorities to seal the investigation and prosecution record of high-profile cases being heard in different courts.
The hearing for the case was then adjourned until next Friday (May 27).