‘Fears of interference’ prompt suo motu on criminal investigations

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial on Wednesday took suo motu notice on the apprehensions that criminal justice might be undermined by people in authority and fixed the case for hearing before a five-judge bench on Thursday (today).

The bench comprises Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar.

Chief Justice Bandial took suo motu notice on the recommendations of a Supreme Court judge on perceived interference in the independence of the prosecution branch in the performance of its power and duties for investigation and prosecution of pending criminal matters involving persons in authority in government.

The notice has been taken amidst allegations levelled by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) that soon after coming to power, the present coalition government allegedly started influencing different cases and transferring investigators or officers supervising cases, especially related to corruption allegations.

According to an official announcement, it was apprehended that such perceived interference may influence prosecution of cases, tampering or disappearing of evidence in courts or in possession of prosecuting agencies and transfer/postings of officers on key posts.

Such actions, along with media reports to modify accountability laws, are likely to undermine the functioning of the criminal justice system in the country, which amounted to violation of fundamental rights affecting the society as a whole and eroding the confidence of the people in the rule of law and constitutionalism in the country, the announcement said.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has held that inordinate and endless delays in the conclusion of criminal trials are the main challenge faced by the criminal justice system, which have a devastating effect on its credibility, transparency, public confidence and health.

The judgement was authored by Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, who was a member of a three-judge bench headed by CJP Umar Ata Bandial that decided an appeal by National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal against the March 10, 2020 Lahore High Court (LHC) grant of post-arrest bail to a number of accused.

Justice Shah emphasised that coordinated efforts of all organs of the government — legislature, executive and judiciary — were required.

He highlighted that one immediate solution was to activate the provincial justice committees constituted under the National Judicial (Policy Making) Committee Ordinance 2002.

Besides, the chief justices of the high courts, who were chairpersons of these committees, must convene and hold meetings of these committees at least on a quarterly basis, the judgement said, adding that the vice chairpersons of the provincial bar councils may be invited to attend and participate in meetings of these committees, as the bar was an important stakeholder in the justice system.

Similarly, the district criminal justice coordination committees set up under the Police Order 2002 should also be revitalised for reviewing and improving the operation of the criminal justice system.

Additionally, the high courts should take up and address, on priority basis, issues relating to appointments of judges in the district judiciary against the available vacant posts and consider the creation of new posts to reduce and rationalise the heavy dockets of cases before the general and special courts, the judgement said.

It further added that the delay in the conclusion of a criminal trial was antithetic to the very concept of a “fair trial” and “due process” guaranteed under Article 10A of the Constitution.

The right to a fair trial is a cardinal requirement of the rule of law. If an accused cannot be tried fairly for an offence, he should not be tried for it at all, the judgement said.

The court office was also directed to send copies of the order to registrars of all high courts as well as secretaries of all federal and provincial law ministries or departments.

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