ISLAMABAD: On Friday, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court, with a 2-1 majority ruling, granted approval to former Prime Minister Imran Khan for his petition challenging alterations made to the country’s accountability laws during the previous Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)-led government’s tenure.
The three-member panel, chaired by CJP Umar Ata Bandial and including Justice Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, conducted over 50 hearings on Khan’s petition against these amendments and had reserved judgment since September 5.
CJP Bandial, who is set to retire on Sunday, September 17, pledged to deliver a “concise and clear verdict.”
In today’s majority ruling, the Supreme Court reinstated corruption cases against public officials that were closed due to the amendments. The court also invalidated some changes made to the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) of 1999.
As per the ruling, the majority decision deemed the petition against NAB amendments admissible, reinstating all closed investigations filed with the anti-corruption agency.
The Supreme Court ordered the restoration of all corruption cases involving amounts less than Rs500 million against political leaders from various parties and public officials, declaring the amendments null. Moreover, the court instructed NAB to return all case records to the relevant courts within seven days.
The verdict on Khan’s appeal further stated that the NAB amendments in question infringed upon the constitutional rights of the public.
This decision carries significant implications, as the nullification of these amendments means that references against prominent political figures in the country will once again proceed to accountability courts. This includes the Toshakhana reference against Nawaz Sharif, the head of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party, and former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, along with the LNG reference against former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and the rental power reference against former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.
However, Justice Shah dissented in the NAB amendments case.
Regarding the NAB amendments, they not only reduced the NAB chairman and prosecutor general’s terms from four years to three but also excluded all regulatory bodies in the country from NAB’s jurisdiction. Furthermore, the changes stipulated a three-year term for accountability court judges and mandated a one-year timeframe for case resolution.
Imran Khan challenged these amendments in court, asserting that they were unconstitutional. The petition argued that amendments to various sections of the NAB law, including sections 2, 4, 5, 6, 25, and 26, were in violation of the Constitution, as were changes to sections 14, 15, 21, and 23. Khan urged the nullification of all these amendments to the NAB law, citing contradictions with fundamental rights outlined in Article 9, 14, 19, 24, and 25.
A special three-member panel was established on July 15, 2022, to consider Khan’s plea. The first hearing of the case against the NAB amendments took place on July 19 of the same year after Khan’s lawyer, Khawaja Haris, submitted application 184/3 challenging the NAB amendments. Both the federal government and NAB were included as parties in the petition.