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November 25, 2016

Celebrating the court


November 25, 2016

“The purpose of celebrating the 150th anniversary is that we want to make people aware that the judiciary is active to protect their rights and that positive reforms are being introduced in the system”. – Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court

It is heartening to note that celebrating an historic event – the 150th anniversary of the Lahore High Court – has not been turned into a mere ritualistic exercise. Emphasis has been placed on positive reforms in the judicial system.

The words of the LHC chief justice testify that there exists a firm resolve to protect the rights of citizens and introduce fundamental structural reforms. This is a highly encouraging manifestation of the commitment of our higher judiciary to the administration and dispensation of justice.

As is written on the LHC website: “Year 2016 marks the 150th anniversary of the historical Lahore High Court, Lahore. This court’s sesquicentennial year is a time to honour this institution and to commemorate the stalwarts of the legal fraternity who upheld the rule of law in the country by their untiring and steadfast commitment to their work....By holding these celebrations, the judiciary in Punjab intends to reach out [to] the masses to demonstrate that a committed and functional judiciary exists to minimise their miseries in pursuit of justice...” –

In a democratic setup, the electoral process ensures representation of the people through elected members. True representation, however, becomes possible by means of impartial accountability of all through an independent and competent judiciary. Favouritism, corruption, nepotism, despotism, repression, fascism, bigotry, totalitarianism, oppression, tyranny, denial of human rights, persecution of minorities, denial to justice and curbs on media freedom – all antonyms to democracy – have no room in a people’s rule. Since the rights of the citizens can only be ensured through an independent judiciary, dispensation of justice is a sine qua non for democracy.

In his address, the chief justice emphasised on the preservation of history of the Lahore High Court for achieving a milestone “for dispensation of justice”.

The Lahore High Court was established in 1866 as the Chief Court of the Punjab. In 1915, it was named the high court with jurisdictions over the provinces of Punjab and Delhi. In 1937, the strength of judges was increased from five to 15. On August 15, 1947 it was given the name of the High Court of Lahore. On January 1, 1981, allied benches of the Lahore High Court were established in Bahawalpur, Multan and Rawalpindi.

The message at the auspicious occasion of 150th anniversary of the Lahore High Court is: in any society, the administration and dispensation of justice should be the top-most priority as without it ‘representative democracy’ cannot be established. The challenges faced by our judicial system while performing this vital task are daunting. In the courts, thousands of cases are pending, and the number is increasing with every passing day.

Litigation, costly and time-consuming, is symptomatic of various socio-economic ills. There is no serious effort towards removing the causes of litigation – the emphasis is on curing symptoms. Even by increasing the number of judges and courts manifold, the real malady will not go away; this malady is lack of socio-economic justice and issues of governance giving rise to unprecedented litigation.

The issue of reform in the judicial system cannot be examined in isolation. It has to be seen in the perspective of the overall outdated nature of our state institutions, which are relics of the colonial period. In view of the changes taking place the world over, no serious effort has been made to make structural reforms in the state organs, and the judiciary is no exception. Many suggestions for the improvement of the judicial system are available.

The glaring problems are lack of facilities and modern infrastructure, inordinate delays and a litigant-prone society. After diagnostic analyses of prevalent maladies in the justice system, experts have offered comprehensive reforms, but there is a lack of will for sincere implementation of these, or for that matter any, reforms in out outdated state institutions.

The judicial organ of the state has to act as the custodian of the rights of the people under the constitution and ensure rule of law in society. Rule of law embraces at least three principles. The first principle is that the law is supreme over the officials of the government as well as private individuals, and thereby preclusive of the influence of arbitrary and political power.

The second principle requires the creation and maintenance of an actual order of positive laws which preserves and embodies the more general principle of normative order. The third principle requires that the relationship between the state and the individual be regulated by law.

What we lack most in Pakistan is rule of law, and this is what should be mainly addressed while celebrating the 150th anniversary of the high court of the most populous province of the country. The administration and dispensation of justice in its true sense is still a far cry in Pakistan. Common people have no access to (costly) justice and those who can afford have to wait for years for orders.

It is time to raise a collective voice for meaningful judicial reforms that are vital for justice, progress, democracy and rule of law.

The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court and adjunct faculty at LUMS.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @drikramulhaq

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