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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Daily corruption hearings: How will SC direction impact high profile cases?

The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the accountability courts across the country to ensure hearing of corruption-related cases on a daily basis and avoid delay in trials of references filed in cases.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the accountability courts across the country to ensure hearing of corruption-related cases on a daily basis and avoid delay in trials of references filed in cases.

A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, heard a case pertaining to delay in trial of cases by the accountability courts as well as a Suo moto review petition on the court direction passed in cases regarding the grant of bail to co-accused.

Apex court orders for establishment of 120 new accountability courts within a month

During the hearing, the federal government informed the apex court that the federal cabinet will give approval of new 120 accountability courts within a week. The additional attorney general told the apex court that approval in this regard had been forwarded to the prime minister. The chief justice, however, reminded the law officer that this was already intimated to the court on the last hearing.

The law officer replied that the attorney general was meeting with the prime minister today for the approval of establishing 120 new accountability courts and, hopefully, the cabinet will give its approval within a week.

The law officer further informed the Supreme Court that all the existing 24 accountability courts are functional in the country, adding that there were no vacant seats in NAB courts as well.

The court directed that all the accountability courts should hear the corruption-related cases on a daily basis, avoiding delay in the under-trial references filed in different cases. Similarly, the court directed that the references filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) should be concluded at the earliest.

The court further directed the chairman National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to proceed with disciplinary action against those officials responsible for delaying the trial of the cases. Likewise, the court directed the anti-graft body to ensure production of all the witnesses in the cases, besides taking effective measures for strengthening the prosecution.

At the outset of the hearing, the additional attorney general told the court, the Ministry of Law and Justice is examining the NAB laws. The court sought a comprehensive report from the Ministry of Law in this regard.

The court questioned as to why a permanent secretary was not yet appointed in the Ministry of Law after the acting law secretary appeared before the bench. The chief justice directed for ensuring the appointment of a permanent secretary in the ministry and remarked the ad-hoc system will not work.

Read More: Why did Supreme Court of Azad Kashmir sack five High Court judges?

Meanwhile, the court held that the case pertaining to the misappropriation in the construction of Lakhra Power Plant will be taken up on October 31 and statements of witnesses of prosecution will be recorded. Later, the court adjourned the hearing for a month.

Conviction rate goes up

With corruption cases being tried on a daily basis, it is highly likely that the conviction rates will continue to rise, as will the pace with which legal proceedings are put to rest. This, in turn means that more names will likely be struck off the travel blacklist, as has already been done quite recently.

What this means for the Supreme Court’s corruption drive

Under the National Accountability Ordinance 1999, corruption cases are supposed to be decided within a span of 30 days. However, due to a host of issues — such as the lack of judicial staff, untrained investigating officers, as well as political considerations — there have been inordinate delays in the settlement of the cases, mostly involving politicians and bureaucrats. No wonder, as many as 1,226 references are pending with a total of 25 accountability courts in the country — five of which have no presiding judge.

Thus, for a swift disposal of the mentioned cases, the Supreme Court has proposed another 120 accountability courts to be set up across the country. The proposal has come from a three-judge bench of the top court — headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed himself — that had taken up a suo motu case regarding delay in trials before the accountability courts. With the addition of 120, a total of 145 accountability courts would be dealing with 1,226 cases — meaning between eight and nine cases for one judge. This will help clear the backlog of the cases within three months, as directed by the Supreme Court.

The dispensation of justice in Pakistan being notoriously slow is no overstatement. Nonetheless, while justice delayed is justice denied, justice rushed is justice crushed. We have seen concerns expressed by legal experts over the model courts that had been set up on the orders of Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, the former CJP, to deal with a huge pendency of cases in the lower courts. There is thus the need to ensure that the quality of judgment is not compromised in the rush to dispose of the pending cases.