Chairman NAB Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal on Saturday informed the Supreme Court that it is impossible to conclude a corruption reference within a 30-day time frame due to a lack of accountability courts to adjudicate a high number of cases.
The reply was submitted today in response to the directions issued by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed to the government to form 120 new accountability courts so all the pending National Accountability Bureau (NAB) cases could be wrapped up within three months.
The CJP had asked the law secretary to set up new courts after getting approval from the competent authorities. The court had also sought suggestions from the NAB chairman for the expeditious disposal of pending references.
In a response submitted to the SC, the NAB chief said the anti-graft body had multiple times conveyed these issues to the government that the accountability courts are unable to meet the legal requirements due to a shortage of courts and judges.
“That under section 16(a) of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999 a timeframe of 30 x days is set for conclusion of trial by the Court and it is required to conduct proceedings on day-to-day basis. However, with the present strength of Accountability Courts and the workload of cases pending adjudication before each Accountability Court, (on average each Accountability Court is currently handling 50 x References), it practically is impossible to adjudicate and finalize matters within 30 x days.”
He also stated that stay orders issued by the High Courts in petitions filed by the accused are also one of the reasons behind the backlog in the disposal of cases.
The former SC judge maintained that the courts do not follow the rules laid down by the Supreme Court in granting bails, adding that the process to declare an accused as absconder is also time-consuming.
The delay in mutual legal assistance from destinations is also cited as one of the reasons.
He informed the court that due to the wrong definition of ‘politically exposed personalities’ by the courts it becomes difficult to explain this to the foreign agencies.
The NAB chairman stated that 120 additional accountability courts needed to be established in Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi/ Islamabad and Balochistan.
“If district and sessions judges are not available then retired judges can be hired for the purpose.”
‘Over 1,000 cases pending’
A three-member bench of the apex court comprising Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel and Justice Yahya Afridi, had asked the authorities to form 120 courts during the hearing of a case regarding the delay in the trial of cases by the accountability courts in the light of Section 16 of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999 requiring a decision of NAB cases within 30 days.
The court in its order said five accountability courts were vacant in Pakistan, whereas 1,226 cases were pending. The bench said no reason had been given as to why the vacant posts had not been filled up till now.
“We are unable to understand the rationale or logic behind the courts [remaining] vacant for long periods by the relevant authorities. More so when we see that the cases before the accountability court are to be decided in terms of law within 30 days.
“The courts keep lying vacant for even years and cases of that court remain pending,” the court order stated. The bench said the whole purpose of making of accountability law apparently seemed to be rendered futile if the courts were allowed to remain vacant.
The bench noted that the number of pendency of cases in the accountability court demands more than a hundred number of judges/courts for dealing with and deciding these cases, as these references were being filed regularly and their numbers were also increasing while the numbers of courts were totally stagnant.