“I am sure the Supreme Court will not accept this toothless inquiry commission.”

–Ali Zafar, President Supreme Court Bar Association, 23rd April, 2016.

The government may have finally announced the formation of a judicial commission under the Chief Justice of Pakistan, but the opposition is still not satisfied. Both PPP and PTI believe that the commission – formulated under the Pakistan Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1956 – would be too weak to hold the Prime Minister accountable. Is this assertion fact or fiction?

A fair analysis would conclude: a bit of both. According to clause 4 and 5 of the 1956 act, the commission “shall have the powers of a Civil Court, while trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908”, which gives it wide ranging powers to interrogate, summon and cross examine witnesses and require the production of documents. It also has the power to launch a criminal investigation, but only if the government empowers it to do so through a special gazette (10A). It does not, however, have the power to probe criminal matters beyond perjury, nor does it have the power to proscribe punishments, and it doesn’t have to publish its findings. Apart from a civil servant, the commission cannot draw upon another body (such as a firm of auditors) to work for them. Crucially clause 7 says that the government can terminate the commission at its discretion. As such the 1956 commission is imperfect at best.