ISLAMABAD: Confrontation between parliament and the Supreme Court (SC) is increasing over non-appearance of Supreme Court’s (SC) registrar before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), as the committee has suggested that the National Assembly (NA) may consider the feasibility of adopting all the lawful methods to ensure compliance of all relevant provisions of law relating to the pending matters about the audit of SC’s accounts in the presence of its principal account officer.
Submitting a 63-page special report in the National Assembly regarding the non- appearance of SC registrar before PAC for the audit of SC’s financial accounts on Thursday, Public Accounts Committee Chairman Nadeem Afzal Gondal and other PAC members further suggested the NA that the matter should be resolved through further debate in the assembly. “All efforts may be made to avoid confrontation and tussle between institutions,” PAC recommended in its report.In its report, PAC also shared the opinions of legal penal as well as Law Ministry, which endorsed that the SC registrar should appear before PAC.
PAC also informed in its report that the SC registrar had attended the last meeting on December 16, 2004, with reference to audit report (AR) for the year 1995-96. The report mentioned figures of financial grant, which were given to the Supreme Court since 1990 but the audit was not conducted by PAC.The report says that when the Supreme Court was asked to attend meeting with reference to AR 2000-01 on March 10, 2006, the SC corresponded to exclude it from attending the meeting.Upon this, the Law Ministry and attorney general of Pakistan had opined that the SC registrar is obliged to attend the meeting in 2006. That SC, on January 1, 2013, suspended the notice of PAC, summoning the registrar of the SC for giving details of the accounts of the SC.
A three-member special bench of the SC, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal khan, conducted preliminary hearing into identical petitions, filed by Sindh District Bar Association and Lahore High Court Bar Association, Rawalpindi Bench, against summoning of the SC registrar by PAC.A three-member bench headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal and comprising Justice Gulzar Ahmad and Justice Azmat Saeed, while hearing the constitutional petitions against issuance of the notice to the SC registrar, has also issued notice to the attorney general of Pakistan and suspended, if any, proceedings before the PAC regarding the matter. The court in its order said, “The summon issued to the SC registrar is without jurisdiction and lawful authority.”
Since the SC’s independence is linked with the intrinsic fundamental rights, the court said that the founding father of Pakistan and the framers of the constitution wanted the independence of judiciary from other organs of the state, therefore any scrutiny of the expenditures by the PAC would affect its independence. The bench noted that since Supreme Court allocations are made out of the Federal Consolidated Fund, therefore PAC could not discuss them.
Justice Afzal said that the parliamentary watchdog did not have the authority to audit the expenditure of the courts, as according to the constitution, the judiciary was treated as an autonomous institution. Also on January 1, the court issued notice to the attorney general of Pakistan in this matter and adjourned the hearing for indefinite period. Until 2005, the registrar used to appear before PAC – a practice discontinued since then.
The committee has been urging the Supreme Court to review its decision since 2008. Eminent jurists and the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) have also supported the PAC’s stance and have urged the SC to change its stance which, they say, is in violation of the constitution.The Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) have recommended the Supreme Court to send its registrar to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for the audit of SC’s accounts.
SCBA Secretary General Raja Javed Iqbal has also suggested the SC to send its registrar to PAC for the audit of SC’s accounts. They expressed fear that a clash between judiciary and parliament might worsen in the future over the SC registrar’s non-appearance before PAC, as PAC had decided to refer this matter to parliament for action. Raja Javed said that PAC has the power to summon the SC registrar under Article 66 of the constitution and if parliament could summon the army chief then why was the registrar not appearing before PAC. Former PBC vice chairman Akhtar Hussain, supporting the PAC stance, said that transparency demands that the SC registrar should appear before the committee, saying that his appearance would not be interference in the independence of judiciary. He added that scrutiny of the SC accounts was an administrative matter.
Meanwhile, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Political Affairs Fawad Chaudhry has urged PAC to take coercive action against the Supreme Court’s registrar over his non-appearance before it.Likewise, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s senior lawyer Nasir Ahmad Bhutta has also endorsed the bar’s recommendation and said that the SC registrar’s appearance before PAC would further increase the dignity of the SC. It must be noted that a panel of jurists had already endorsed the contention of PAC that the constitution allows it to summon the Supreme Court registrar for regularisation of annual expenditures incurred on superior courts. – DailyTimes