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Justice Shah Questions if Boycotting Parliament Weakens Legislature

In hearing into PTI chief’s petition against NAB amendments, apex court judge suggests nullifying law sets precedent for judicial review of all future laws

by Staff Report

Farooq Naeem—AFP

Hearings into Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s petition against last year’s amendments to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) resumed on Friday, with Supreme Court Justice Mansoor Ali Shah questioning whether a boycott of Parliament and recourse to the judiciary served to weaken parliamentary democracy.

The incumbent government passed the National Accountability (Second Amendment) Act, 2022 last year to heavy criticism from the PTI, which has claimed the aim was to damage the accountability process and nullify pending cases against its opposition. In his petition before a three-member bench of the apex court—comprising Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justices Ijazul Ahsan and Mansoor Ali Shah—Khan has argued that the law is against fundamental rights.

In Friday’s proceedings, Justice Shah noted that the PTI had chosen to abstain from voting on the NAB ordinance, questioning whether someone who refused to vote had the right to approach the court over it. “Can a National Assembly member leave Parliament empty? Is bringing matters pertaining to Parliament to court not weakening the legislature,” he asked, adding that Khan’s resignation had yet to be accepted and he was still a parliamentarian.

“How would it be determined if this case is for the benefit of the people? Will three judges sitting here decide what is in the public interest and what is not?” he continued, adding that there was little public outrage over the NAB amendments and the petitioner had yet to identify which fundamental rights had been violated by the legislation. “Imran Khan could have easily defeated the amendments in Parliament,” he said.

Senior counsel Makhdoom Ali Khan, representing the government, noted that if all PTI lawmakers had attended the joint session of Parliament that passed the law, they would have been in the majority.

The CJP said the court would soon seek a response from Khan on the case. “Every leader takes recourse from the Constitution to justify his actions … boycotting Parliament was PTI’s political strategy. It is not necessary that every political strategy has a legal justification,” he said, while appearing to defend the PTI’s boycott of Parliament by maintaining it was a “common practice” globally.

Justice Ahsan also appeared to defend Khan’s boycott, saying it would only come into question if the PTI chief had personally benefited from the NAB amendments. “Apparently, the petitioner does not seem to have any personal interest attached to the ordinance,” he said. To this, the counsel argued that the petition could be trying to gain political advantage from the legal challenge rather than personal benefit.

“Imran Khan deliberately decided to leave Parliament empty,” he said. To this, the CJP posited that Khan might have known he’d fail in Parliament and so had decided to approach the court. To this, the lawyer argued that cases should be decided on facts, not speculation. “Instead of upholding or invalidating the legislation, the court can also return it without a decision,” he said.

Justice Shah, meanwhile, observed that if the court declared the NAB law null and void, it could set off a cycle of “anyone” challenging laws in the SC in future. The hearing was then adjourned till Feb. 14.

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