Imran Khan to appear over video-link on May 16

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Tuesday mandated that the federal and Punjab governments provide a video-link setup for imprisoned PTI founder Imran Khan, enabling him to participate and present his case in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) amendment lawsuit.

“The PTI founder is allowed to present his case through video link at the next hearing if he chooses to,” declared Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa, emphasizing the need for video link facilities.

This directive was issued during the session on the federal government’s intra-court appeal against the Supreme Court’s 2023 decision, which invalidated several NAB amendments. Khan expressed his intention to personally argue his case.

Presiding over the proceedings, the five-member larger bench led by CJP Isa includes Justice Amin-ud-Din Khan, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, Justice Athar Minallah, and Justice Hasan Azhar Rizvi.

This hearing follows a September 2023 decision by a three-member Supreme Court bench that upheld Khan’s challenge to amendments in the accountability laws introduced under the previous Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)-led administration.

Chaired by then-Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, alongside Justice Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, the bench conducted over 50 hearings, ultimately delivering a majority 2-1 verdict that reinstated corruption cases against officials previously absolved due to these amendments.

The court’s ruling reinstated all corruption cases involving sums under Rs500 million against various political figures and officials, rendering the amendments null and void.

This ruling is significant as it reopens corruption cases against notable political figures including the Toshakhana case against PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari, and former PMs Yousuf Raza Gilani, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and Raja Pervez Ashraf.

In response, the federal government lodged an appeal under Section 5 of the SC law against this judgment.

The last session for this case was held on October 31, with the case being adjourned indefinitely until today’s hearing.

The hearing

As the hearing began, the CJP limited the discussion strictly to legal arguments concerning the amendments’ validity.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa advocate general supported the Supreme Court’s stance against the NAB amendments, while the attorney general defended the amendments on behalf of the federal government.

Justice Minallah questioned the federal government’s right to appeal, stating that only a directly impacted party has standing to challenge a verdict.

“This appeal does not meet the criteria set by the Benazir case,” noted the judge.

Additionally, with the CJP emphasizing the need for justification behind any ordinance, Justice Mandokhail pointed out the federal government must also rationalize the necessity of such ordinances.

Highlighting the misuse of NAB for “political engineering,” Justice Minallah urged the agency to disclose the number of politicians targeted and incarcerated over the past decade.

He also instructed the attorney general to ensure the video-link facility was functioning correctly.

The hearing was then adjourned until May 16.

The amendments

The NAB amendments not only shortened the tenure of the NAB chairman and the bureau’s prosecutor general from four to three years but also removed all regulatory authorities from under NAB’s oversight.

Additionally, the changes mandated a three-year term for accountability court judges and required these courts to conclude cases within a year.

Challenging these amendments as unconstitutional, Khan approached the apex court, advocating for their annulment based on their inconsistency with several constitutional articles and fundamental rights.

On July 15, 2022, a special three-member bench was constituted to address Khan’s petition, with the first hearing following shortly after, instigated by an application from Khan’s attorney, Khawaja Haris.

The petition named both the federation and NAB as respondents.

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