The top court has taken notice of long detention of accused in corruption cases and noted that to arrest alleged perpetrators of a white collar crime is not always needed and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) can control the accused by seizing their passports and bank accounts.
“To detain NAB accused for long durations will be unjust. An accused can be put behind bars only if there is a danger of him affecting the society or the trial.
“There is a need to distinguish between the accused in a violent crime and a white collar crime. The conduct of NAB accused can be controlled through means other than detention,” noted a three-judge bench on Friday.
The bench, led by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, was hearing the bail application of Punjab former director food Muhammad Ajmal, who is accused of having assets beyond known sources of income.
Ajmal’s counsel – Abid Saqi – told the court that NAB arrested the accused on June 27, 2019 and he was indicted on August 27, 2019 but the accountability court of Lahore that is hearing his case has not so far heard testimonies of any of the 38 witnesses.
The counsel said according to a report, 80 cases are already pending in the accountability court.
Justice Yahya Afridi, a member of the bench, asked the NAB prosecutor as to when the court will be able to hear the case filed against the food department official.
“We cannot ask the court to hear the case on priority as cases are heard according to the date of their filing and it would be unjust to the accused in other cases as well,” he noted.
The NAB prosecutor assured the bench that NAB would not try to delay prosecution of any case.
Justice Umar Ata Bandial noted that to arrest an accused is not necessary in all cases and NAB could also use other methods to control the conduct of an accused like seizing their passports and bank accounts.
The NAB prosecutor argued that if the court started granting bail to the accused on account of delay in trial, the accused in every new case will also start seeking bails.
Justice Afridi said NAB will have to comply with the apex court's recent order, asking NAB to hold case hearings on a daily basis. The NAB prosecutor said the watchdog is also happy with the decision as it also wants speedy trial in corruption cases.
Justice Bandial said the apex court will have to evolve some rules with regard to NAB accused who have been in jails for a long time without any progress in their trials. “We will need the assistance of amicus curiae in this regard,” he noted.
The court later issued notice to the accountability court asking it to explain the reasons for delay in trials as well as the timeline for hearing testimonies of the 38 witnesses in the case in question. The accountability court was asked to submit its report by the third week of November.
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