The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) received its harshest criticism yet when the Islamabad High Court’s detailed judgement in the 4G auction case was released. While the body has previously received stern lectures from judges frustrated by the body’s shortcomings, these comments were far more important than any extempore observations made in open court and reported in the press.

The IHC bench comprising Chief Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb have penned an incisive and comprehensive judgment, detailing not only how the NAB’s current practices have hindered its own investigations, but also how it is inadvertently contravening basic human rights offered by the constitution in the process. But the court did not stop there, it went on to detail how to fix these issues and how more checks and balances can be put into place to prevent this from happening in the future. Crucially since these comments are part of the judgment, these guidelines will become part of the legal precedent, and hence would have to be followed by all lower courts.

The prime direction here is the most important, and all Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) would do well to go through the judgement and treat it as a manual on conducting legally viable investigations. That injunction is, that person should not be arrested on suspicion of a crime or for the purpose of investigating him. The CJP notes “power to arrest is to be exercised fairly, justly, equitably and without discrimination. There must be sufficient incriminating material to justify arresting an accused.” The court then goes into great length to identify what exactly counts as “incriminating material”. It takes great care to clarify that mere accusation cannot be used as a basis for arrest under the Ordinance of 1999.

The directions by the court are extremely necessary and warmly welcomed, our legal prosecution department needs to be better regulated.