Suo motu notice – 23 May 2022

The chief justice said the suo motu was only ‘meant to protect the criminal justice system and the rule of law’

The Supreme Court’s decision to bar the government from ordering postings and transfers of officials involved in “high profile” cases has created a massive stir in political circles, starting with how the case started. Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial had taken suo motu notice of several postings and transfers and of “news reports” such as those relating to the death of former FIA director Mohammad Rizwan, who was probing money laundering charges against PM Shehbaz Sharif and his son, Punjab CM Hamza Shehbaz. While no wrongdoing was alleged in his death, which occurred a few weeks after his transfer, PTI leaders put out several conspiracy theories blaming the Sharifs.

Interestingly, Rizwan also led the sugar mafia probes, which suggested that then-PTI darling Jehangir Tareen, former federal minister Khusro Bakhtiyar, and several others were involved in illegal practices. However, the PTI government shelved the probe, allegedly to protect its leaders and allies. This allows PML-N leaders the room to complain why no suo motu notices were taken on this Rs110 billion case or several other long-pending cases against the PTI. Former attorney general Irfan Qadir has also noted that the suo motu could be seen as interference in the affairs of the executive. Other criticisms, such as the failure to appoint judges against several vacant posts, seemed out of place since some of these posts had been vacant for several months during the PTI’s tenure, whereas the incumbents have been in power for barely a month.

Meanwhile, the court’s decision to stop NAB and FIA from dropping cases could backfire by leaving cases open against people who were wrongly charged. However, we must also note that the chief justice said the suo motu was only “meant to protect the criminal justice system and the rule of law”, rather than point fingers. Neutral observers would agree that at least a few of the events pointed to by the court raise suspicion. Whether that is justifiable or otherwise coincidental, it is in the government and the public’s best interest that these are quickly clarified.

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