ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Thursday declared former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s arrest as illegal and ordered his immediate release in the Al-Qadir Trust case.
The apex court has advised the PTI chief to approach the Islamabad High Court again.
While the hearing was underway, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial reportedly commented that the Islamabad High Court (IHC) would resume hearing of the case the following day.
“You must abide by the decision of the IHC,” the CJP was quoted as telling Khan during the proceedings.
The top court had ordered the authorities concerned to produce Khan in an hour as it heard the PTI’s plea challenging Imran’s arrest from the Islamabad High Court premises.
The court had directed the authorities to present the PTI chief by 4:30pm but he was produced in the court at around 5:40pm with a delay of over an hour.
Strict security arrangements were made in the federal capital’s Red Zone area to avoid any untoward incident from happening.
After Imran’s arrival, the courtroom was closed, and subsequently, the top court resumed the hearing of the case.
A three-member apex court bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar, had earlier stated that PTI workers will not be allowed to come to the court.
Dismissing the attorney general’s request to be given a day’s time, the CJP stated that the court would issue an appropriate order today, and was “very serious” about the matter
Dismissing the attorney general’s request to be given a day’s time, the CJP stated that the court would issue an appropriate order today, and was “very serious” about the matter.
The attorney general argued that an accountability court had already approved the former prime minister’s physical remand, Justice Minallah stated that if the “foundation” [of the arrest] was illegal then a “structure cannot be allowed to be built on it”. He continued that the time had come to set an example for the future.
“The manner in which the arrest was conducted cannot be tolerated,” he stated, as the apex court took up issue with the way Imran was arrested from the premises of the Islamabad High Court (IHC).
According to the court, the arrest will “set a wrong precedent”
Commenting on the PTI chief’s arrest, Justice Minallah questioned why the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) took the law “into its own hands”.
Imran’s lawyer Hamid Khan informed the court that the former premier had appeared before the IHC to get bail in the NAB case, and that the Rangers appeared when Imran was getting his biometrics done. He continued that the PTI chief was arrested by Rangers personnel who broke down doors and windows.
“Imran Khan was ill-treated and violently arrested. Getting biometrics is part of the judicial procedure,” he maintained.
The CJP commented that according to court orders, the bail application was filed but not fixed. He asked if, as per the record, the case scheduled was for another matter
Justice Minallah questioned if the application was filed before the biometrics. To this the lawyer stated that the application could not be filed without biometrics.
He remarked that the court was called for one case, while the other was being filed.
Justice Minallah questioned if the right of access to justice could be waived. He further asked if it would not “have been appropriate for NAB to take permission from the registrar”.
He also asked why the accountability bureau took the law into its own hands.
The chief justice stated that the incident was a matter of respect for the judiciary. He recalled a previous case where the NAB arrested an accused from the SC parking lot, but returned the individual after the court took action.
He continued that NAB had assured the court that no similar action would be taken again, after which the SC spared nine officers of the bureau from contempt proceedings
When asked by the CJP about how many people came to arrest Imran, the PTI chief’s lawyer Salman Safdar informed him that 80-100 Rangers personnel were present at the scene.
Justice Minallah questioned what the PTI wanted from the apex court, to which Khan stated that the court should order Imran’s release.
The chief justice remarked that 100 people entering the court premises spread fear. Justice Minallah asked why anyone would trust the judiciary if those who surrendered in the court were arrested.
Shoaib Shaheen said that the court staff was also a target of torture.
The CJP maintained that the court would review the legality of the warrant and its compliance.
Justice Minallah stated that the process of surrendering before the court could not be sabotaged
Safdar informed the court that Imran was attacked and his security was also withdrawn, despite him being on the radar of militant
Justice Minallah maintained that the court would only consider the right of access to justice.
Safdar continued that the investigating officer (IO) for NAB was not present at the time of the arrest and Imran was brought from the Judges’ Gate of the SC.
Justice Minallah remarked that NAB had been doing similar things to elected representatives for many years, adding that the time had come for the bureau to “end its work”.
Safdar told the SC that PTI leader Asad Umar was arrested from the IHC as well. He said that after Imran’s arrest, the PTI camp discovered that the warrant was issued on May 1. He further added that the interior secretary told the court that the warrant was not yet received for execution.
Justice Minallah stated that they expected a “good response” from the political leadership on the court appearance.
The chief justice said that whatever happened due to the arrest should have been prevented, and that it did not mean that legal action could be ignored. He stated that the court wanted to issue a decision that would be applicable to every citizen.
“Access to justice is the right of every accused,” Justice Bandial said.
The CJP also commented on the attack on the Mianwali district court, stating that it was “very painful”. He instructed that those responsible for the attack should be revealed.
Justice Mazhar asked if the NAB’s notices were responded to. To this, Imran’s lawyer answered in affirmative. He further clarified that according to the law, arrests could not be made at the inquiry level and that the inquiry report must be given to the lawyer of the accused after it is completed
Shaheen added that Imran had sent a reply to NAB’s notice and that the notice itself was “illegal”.
To this, Justice Minallah said that the procedure for complying with NAB’s warrant was not the real issue. However, Justice Mazhar said that the warrant was not challenged by Imran and questioned why the former premier was not involved in the investigation..
Imran’s lawyer reiterated that the NAB notice was responded to.
Justice Minallah asked if the NAB had asked Imran to appear in a personal capacity. He continued that everyone spoke about following the law, but no one adhered to it themselves.
“Everyone wants the other to follow the law,” he said, adding that it was evident that Imran did not follow the NAB notice
Justice Mazhar stated that the NAB notice meant that the concerned person would be presumed to be an accused, and that many people receive bail after the notice only. He said that according to records, Imran responded to NAB’s notice received in March.
Imran’s lawyer argued that the PTI chief had only received one notice from the anti-graft watchdog.
Justice Minallah stated that Justice Mazhar was talking about the implementation of the law and that the “real issue” was the right of access to justice.
‘NAB hasn’t learnt any lessons’
NAB’s prosecutor general Asghar Haider appeared before the court. Justice Minallah said that the bureau had not “learned any lessons” and was accused of many activities including political engineering. He questioned if the NAB took “permission from the Registrar
The prosecutor maintained that a letter was written to the ministry of interior for compliance with the warrants and the ministry implemented it. When asked if the ministry took action in the courtroom, Haider said that he did not know the facts because he was appointed as the NAB prosecutor “at half past one today”.
Justice Minallah asked how many notices were issued to Imran, to which the prosecutor said that only one notice was issued. The judge maintained that “apparently the warrant was not in accordance with law”
A day earlier, the PTI filed a petition in the top court challenging the IHC ruling that party chief Imran Khan’s arrest by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) from the high court’s premises on May 9 was “legal”.
After Imran’s arrest which sparked violent protests across the country, PTI vice chairperson Shah Mehmood Qureshi called an emergency meeting of a seven-member party committee to review the situation and devise a comprehensive strategy to secure the former premier’s safe and early release.
And on Wednesday, the PTI’s legal team led by Fawad Chaudhry submitted a petition in the apex court, requesting the court to set aside the order passed by the IHC chief justice in the wake of the arrest.
…Leave to appeal may please be granted against the impugned order 09-05-2023 passed by Hon’ble IHC […] may be set aside and further after hearing the parties the warrant dated 01-05-2023 issued by Chairman NAB [National Accountability Bureau] may be declared void and further be directed to release the petitioner/accused forthwith in the interest of justice,” it said