News Desk |
Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan had appointed Ijaz ul Ahsan as a supervisory Judge in its landmark decision on July 28 to ensure that the references filed in the accountability court are dealt with within six months.
National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had filed the references on September 7, 2017, which were required to be completed on March 6, 2018.
It looks as if accountability court may miss the six-month deadline. Among the other reasons, one of the pertinent reasons for this is the retirement of the court No 1 judge Muhammad Bashir who is set to retire on March 12 which is a day before the SC deadline expires.
More than 90-cases including the NAB references are still pending in two courts which are impossible to be dealt with in the limited time left until March 12.
Story of two-letters
There were speculations regarding the possibility of extension of Judge Muhammad Bashir. In this regard, two letters were written.
Chief Justice Islamabad High Court (IHC) Muhammad Anwar Khan Kasi wrote a letter to law ministry in which it said, Islamabad is already facing a shortage of judges and 13-judges have been brought on deputation to Islamabad.
Moreover, there is no judge currently working in accountability court 2 and this position needs to be filled. The letter also requested to grant ‘fresh appointment’ to judge Muhammad Bashir because high profile cases are still to be decided, which requires more time.
It is believed that the matter may be resolved by March 8, but anything concrete is yet to come forward on the issue.
The second letter is written by the judge Muhammad Bashir in which he requested an extension in service. He said that important cases are sub judice in Court number 1 which are required to be completed in 6-month on the directives of the apex court. Besides, he has additional cases like the rental power plant in court number 2 which is yet to be dealt with. He had also requested the ministry seeking appointment of a judge for the Accountability Court No 2.
Ministry of law is yet to respond to these two letters. It is believed that the matter may be resolved by March 8, but anything concrete is yet to come forward on the issue.
Federal Ministry of Law has written a letter to the IHC Registrar on February 21 to for the appointment of two Accountability Court judges in Islamabad.
Why is the judgment delayed?
Additional references in Al-Azizia and Flagship Investment cases filed by the NAB, over 50 prosecution witnesses in the four references, and further 40 witnesses in additional references delayed the cases. Furthermore, Qatari Prince Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani could also be called for the testimony as it is yet to be decided whether defense witnesses would be produced or not.
What do the experts say?
Barrister Ali Zafar speaking to a private channel said, there are many SC and high court judgments which indicate that extension should not be granted in any case. New judges can be appointed but the extension should not be given and whoever takes over as a judge should continue with the case.
Law experts say that new judge can use the existing record and evidence for his judgment which may take a few extra days or weeks in understanding the key points of the case before announcing the final decision.
Raja Amir Abbas was of the view that as the letter from IHC stated, there is no question of extension for Judge Muhammad Bashir, rather, it will be a fresh appointment for more than three-years.
He further argued that judge Muhammad Bashir is the only session judge in Islamabad with expertise in dealing with NAB cases. Since chief justice IHC was familiar with the situation, that is why he opted to ask for the fresh appointment of the same judge.
In the light of these arguments, there is no question of extension. Secondly, President of Pakistan appoints the judge after receiving nominations from the Chief Justice of IHC.
Judge Muhammad Bashir waiting for re-appointment?
Ministry of Law has no role in it but to forward the nominations to the president for appointment.
Ministry may delay the process and take up to few weeks to send a summary to the president. But, President appoints the judge under the procedure defined in the NAB Ordinance, in which ‘the chief justice of the relevant HC sends nominations for the accountability court judges to the Ministry of Law and Justice which forwards the summary to the prime minister to forward to the president for appointment’.
The accountability court will certainly miss the 6-month deadline, but, if President accepts the IHC nomination and Ministry of Law and Justice does not play delaying tactics, judge Muhammad Bashir will be the best person to announce verdict in this case, where punishment can possibly include not only fine, imprisonment but also disqualification from holding a public Office.