SC stops transfers in high-profile cases

Larger bench hears suo motu case regarding government interference in prosecution, investigation of cases

Hasnaat Malik May 19, 2022
Supreme Court of Pakistan. PHOTO: AFP/FILE


The Supreme Court restrained the executive authorities on Thursday from transfers, postings and removal of officials involved in the investigation or prosecution of high-profile corruption cases against top government functionaries, especially the Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz.

Hearing a suo motu case regarding the alleged government interference in the affairs of prosecution as well as investigation branches in high-profile cases, a five-judge larger bench, headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, also held that no prosecution case would be withdrawn until the next date of hearing – May 27.

The bench issued notices to interior secretary, director general of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), chairman and regional directors of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the prosecutors general and the advocates general and the head of prosecution branches of FIA and NAB to file their statements in writing.

The order further asked the relevant authorities to submit the names of such officers and their successors in the investigating and prosecution branches of the FIA and NAB in high-profile cases, who had been transferred, posted or removed from their positions in the last six weeks.

The court also sought the names of the persons who had been removed from the exit control list (ECL) during the last six weeks, the process employed in distinguishing their cases for the relief granted, the description of the process now adopted for dealing with the ECL affectees and whether the previous process has been amended or abandoned as a result.

“Status quo shall be maintained till the next hearing,” the court order said.

The court asked the authorities to inform about the steps taken for the preservation of the case files and the case record with the investigating branch and the prosecution branch and the record of the concerned trial court – whether a special court (central) or an accountability court.

“The Investigation and Prosecution record in respect of high profile cases pending with both the FIA and the NAB shall, unless required for submission in Court, be checked, verified and kept in safe custody of the head of the concerned department and a report stating compliance to the said effect shall be presented to the Court on the next date of hearing.”

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The court issued notices to the registrars of the high courts of all provinces and the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) to convey its order to the courts of special judge (central) and the accountability courts, functioning within their jurisdictions.

The order said that the court was concerned with the guarantees provided by the Constitution to the peoples of Pakistan in Article 4 for the rule of law, Article 10 for compliance with due process and Article 25 of the Constitution for equal protection of and equal treatment of all persons in accordance with law.

Earlier, the chief justice asked Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Ashtar Ausaf read out the material regarding the posting and transfer of officers in investigation and prosecution branches in high-profile cases. The chief justice expressed concern over the death of FIA officer Dr Rizwan.

“We are concerned that these developments indicate interference in the criminal justice system. The process should be transparent,” he said. He added that though the highest office-holders were accused in these cases, he expected that the federal government would cooperate and explain these facts.

The chief justice also referred to media report that the record of NAB had disappeared. “We don’t want to embarrass anyone. We just want to protect the criminal justice system,” he added.

The bench also expressed serious concern over the removal of “thousands of names from the ECL” and sought list of the names. The court asked the FIA director general to submit a reply to the transfer of Prosecution Officer Sikandar Zulqarnain in a graft case against the prime minister.

The chief justice said that the court wanted to “ensure transparency” in the criminal justice system. The hearing of case is adjourned until May 27.


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