The Panama verdict brought with it a new dimension in the justice delivery system wherein the judgement has required that an honourable judge of the Supreme Court be appointed to supervise and monitor implementation of this judgment in letter and spirit, and oversee the proceedings conducted by NAB and the accountability court in the matters that are to follow.
This supervised justice delivery is being criticised on the ground that it usurps the independence of the trial court and that perceived or real influence of such monitoring would lead to injustice. This contention is being supported by the presumption that no subordinate judge would dare go against expressed, implied or perceived notions of the supervising judge. The practising legal fraternity would vouch for the contention that both in high courts and in the lower judiciary, the presiding judges tend to refuse to go against set precedent or observation of the Supreme Court. However, both the nature of the case and the dispensation of justice at the level of the subordinate judiciary is not so ideal that it should be left unattended. This leads to the conclusion that this supervised justice is an acknowledgment that our judicial system is ineffective and needs such supervision.
It is commonly believed that our judicial system provides a lot of opportunities for its manipulation by advocates of the parties, litigants and even by complacent judges who are in no hurry to deliver speedy justice and are willing to adjourn a matter for any flimsy reasons. Exploiting this judicial dysfunctionalism is easier for the mighty and the powerful who can afford to engage expensive, manipulative lawyers who are able to exploit the technicalities of the legal process even at the cost of defeating justice.
The lower judiciary tends to, for more than one reason, agree to such manipulation in the name of so-called ‘interest of justice’. Because of these factors, supervised-justice delivery does not have to be treated as suspicious as the nature of the case is unique. For a neutral observer, there are equally good reasons to believe that supervised-justice delivery is only meant to see smooth and speedy trials and to check the manipulative tricks that have become an unfortunate reality in the justice system.
Delayed justice emerged as an indicator of national crises. No measures were suggested by our superior judiciary, by our bar associations and even by the government for what had gone with our judicial system that we were compelled to rely on military courts. There has been little to none focus on what remedial measures and reforms are to be introduced for speedy justice delivery to the common man. This complacent approach indicates the collective failure of the judicial conscience.
The ultimate victims of this failure are common citizens who pass through a process of protracted agonies, uncertainties, troubles, financial losses, meaningless adjournments and dilemma. Even if justice is delivered, it is delivered with such an inordinate delay that it becomes insignificant by the time it is pronounced. Generations have to suffer to see a judgment. It has just been witnessed recently that some death-row convicts were acquitted after decades of imprisonment with no answers for their suffering. Two brothers were acquitted after they were hanged. A property suit is decided in around two decades. A widow does not get compensation for the wrongful death of her husband when it is needed the most.
There is a social and psychological cost of this judicial dysfunctionalism. Large-scale intolerance among individuals, distrust, sense of insecurity, disregard for popular norms, distortion of social values, short cuts, lawlessness, a culture of fraud and deceit, crises of rule of law, loss of faith in institutions and violence in society are a result of denied justice. The complacent judicial system does not rescue an individual in distress.
Now that there has been implied acknowledgement that our judicial system needs to be supervised for speedy justice delivery, such oversight should also be available for the common man, who deserves it the most.
With some exceptions, even if we take a conservative estimate, around 60 cases are fixed for hearing each day before judges and they have just around four hours to do justice with 60 men and women. On average, judges have only four minutes per case which is humanly impossible. Towards the end, half the cases remain un-heard and adjourned for another cycle of wasteful activity. Such wasteful adjournments continue to erode the credibility of the judicial system. The painful part of this saga is that our lawyers and judges are living with this mockery of justice without taking steps to implement measures that can speed up justice delivery to common citizens. The commitments of the lawyers’ movement seem to have been forgotten.
The concept of judicial independence is promoting injustice unless this independence is regulated to protect the interests of regular citizens. It would be in the fitness of things if the Supreme Court and the bar associations try to think of a permanent institution for supervised justice delivery. One way of doing so is by appointing a judge of the Supreme Court as a Judicial Ombudsman with adequate capacity and a set-up in all the high courts. The functions of this Judicial Ombudsman may include dealing with maladministration and delays in the judicial process, eradicating the culture of stay-orders, capacity building of the judicial system vis-a-vis workload, addressing complaints of litigants regarding delays and ensuring pragmatic reviews of procedures.
This would not encumber judicial independence but regulate it. If it is done soon enough, any criticism of supervised justice would be neutralised.
The writer is an advocate with adoctorate in criminology.