September 29, 2019
LAHORE: The Lahore High Court has ruled that mere pendency of an inquiry with the “National Accountability Bureau” does not provide sufficient material or justification for keeping the name of a person in the Exit Control List (ECL).
“It is well-entrenched principle of law that merely pendency of an inquiry or investigation with the “NAB” authorities, which seemed to be going on for a considerable long time, would not be a ground for depriving a citizen of his constitutional right of living as a free citizen of Pakistan,” says a detailed judgement on petition of Leader of Opposition in National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif.
Comprising Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan and Justice Mirza Viqas Rauf, a two-judge bench had on March 26 ordered the federal government to remove the name of Mr Sharif from the ECL.
The verdict authored by Justice Rauf says the Exit from Pakistan (Control) Ordinance, 1981, empowers the government to prohibit a person from proceeding abroad, but exercising such powers requires application of independent mind fairly and justifiably to the facts.
“Such an order cannot be passed in a vacuum or mechanical manner as it tends to curtail the liberty of a person which resultantly tantamount to abridge his fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution,” rules the judge.
Mr Sharif was previously arrested on Oct 5, 2018 in two different scams — Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme and Ramzan Sugar Mills. Later he applied for bail, which was allowed by the LHC on Feb 14, 2019 and in pursuance thereof he was released from jail.
The judge notes that the inquiry into alleged illegal assets on the basis of which the petitioner was placed on the ECL was authorised on Oct 23, 2018 and is still in process.
“We when confronted learned law officer as well as learned special prosecutor for NAB as to how much time is required for completion of the proceedings, they were unable to give any specific time to this effect,” observes the judge.
He remarks that no plausible reasons have been assigned by the respondents while placing the name of petitioner on the ECL. It appears that the impugned order is passed in haste and in mechanical manner on the instructions of the NAB, the judge says.
The judge observes that in recent past there is a consistent view of the high courts that mere pendency of an inquiry or investigation would be no ground for justifying placement of name of an accused on the ECL