Lahore/Islamabad - Chairman NAB Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal informed the Supreme Court that it was not possible to wrap up a corruption reference within a 30-day time frame as there were not enough accountability courts to adjudicate a high number of cases.

The reply was submitted today by the NAB Chairman in response to the directions issued by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed to form 120 new accountability courts so that all the pending National Accountability Bureau (NAB) cases could be concluded 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 maintained that the anti-graft body had conveyed these issues multiple times to the government that the accountability courts were unable to meet the legal requirements due to a dearth of courts and judges.

“That under section 16(a) of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999 a timeframe of 30 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 references), it is practically impossible to adjudicate and finalize matters within 30 days.”

He also stated that stay orders issued by the High Courts in petitions filed by the accused were also one of the reasons behind the backlog in the disposal of cases.

The former SC judge maintained that the courts did not follow the rules laid down by the Supreme Court in granting bails, adding that the process to declare an accused as absconder was also time-consuming.

The delay in mutual legal assistance from destinations was also cited as one of the reasons.

NAB Chairman informed the court that due to the wrong definition of ‘politically exposed personalities’ by the courts it became 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.”

Earlier, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had observed that till the completion of investigation and filing of references in the Accountability Courts, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) should not arrest people.

A three-member special bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed made this observation while hearing a suo motu notice about the delay in decision-making process in cases before the Accountability Courts. The NAB was directed to frame rules under Section 34 of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999 by the next date of hearing.

Justice Yahya Afridi had said that that before the completion of the investigation, people should not be arrested. He had said that when the NAB arrests people during an investigation then it becomes a burden on the courts. He had further said that if the people did not cooperate during the investigation then the NAB could take action.

The court had noted that the NAB prosecution and investigation were incompetent and flawed.

Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed had said that hardly any prosecutor provided assistance to the courts as they were not aware of the factual and legal matter of the case and were dependent on the courts for favourable decisions.

The Chief Justice had said that under the NAB Ordinance, the cases needed to be decided within 30 days, but were decided in 30 years. He had said that instead of quality, the NAB emphasized on quantity, therefore, 50, 50 witnesses were produced in the cases.

Prosecutor General Justice (retd) Asghar Haider had agreed with the Chief Justice’s observation and had said that the NAB was created in 1999 and that they engaged lawyers, who were available in the market, as prosecutors. He had admitted that the investigation was flawed.

Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed had observed that the base of the case was investigation, if that was faulty then it became a problem for the prosecution, therefore, the conviction rate in the NAB cases was abysmal.

The Prosecutor General had told that they held seminars for investigators, where British and American police officers gave them training. He said that unless the NAB had competent investigators and prosecutors it could not deliver.

The Chief Justice had said that in the presence of the material evidence why the bureau’s investigators relied upon oral evidence. He had said that when there would be dishonesty in investigation then prosecutors would not be able to defend the cases in the courts.

The NAB prosecutors and other officers did not have the capacity, the CJP had remarked.

The bench had said that the NAB should decide the case within 30 days as per the scheme of the legislators. The court had expected another response from the NAB chairman about the matter on the next date of hearing.

The Secretary Law and Justice had informed that the consultation was being held and the decision for setting up 120 courts would be arrived at within one month.

He had said that after the cabinet approval, process for appointment of judges and infrastructure of Accountability Courts would be decided.