Thursday June 13, 2024

No justice, no peace

By Irshad Ahmad
December 23, 2018

On December 16, the nation observed the fourth anniversary of the APS Peshawar attack. People paid tributes and spoke about the sacrifices of the martyrs and their families.

The people also, once again, reminded the government of its ‘promises’ for bringing peace, ensuring justice, countering terrorism and curtailing extremism through the proper implementation of the National Action Plan. People once again urged the implementation of the 20th and the most imperative and overdue promise of government – “revamping and reforming the criminal justice system”.

Soon after the APS incident, during an All Parties Conference and at the floor of parliament, the flawed justice system was not only acknowledged, there was also a call for cogent reforms. Among the core conditions for passing the 21st Amendment was also that the government would bring about tangible reforms and strengthen the justice system. Consequently, within a week, the government implemented point 2 of NAP by empowering military courts for the trial of civilians. However, reforms in the justice system have to date been placed on the back burner.

At the time that military courts were established for civilians’ trials, it was correctly argued by rights activists that such temporary measures may in the long term be a threat to the legal due process and rule of law in the country. Secondly, they would also have a corrosive impact on Pakistan’s struggle to create an “independent and strong judicial system”. But as this was also part of NAP, the government didn’t listen to the concerns raised by human rights bodies nationally as well as internationally, and the amendment was implemented.

Human rights activists had rightly disagreed that such temporary measures would further deteriorate the country’s justice system; today, their calculations have been proved right. At present, Pakistani courts are more overburdened than they were in 2014. Just last week, the minister for law and justice helplessly informed the Senate that 350,447 cases are pending in the Supreme Court and the five high courts of the country. Regretfully, an HRCP report also cites around 1.8 million cases pending in Pakistani courts. The problem is not limited to the delay in cases alone, but the overall justice system in fact needs to be overhauled.

During its five years in power, the PML-N government failed to introduce any substantial reforms which could improve the justice system in the country. And so the justice system in the country further deteriorated. Now, the PTI, which had also promised to reform the country’s justice system and make a ‘Naya Pakistan’, has also a chance to fix things. But this might never be an easy task to accomplish. There is a need to enact proper, up-to-date legislation, for which the government needs to engage with the opposition.

The law minister rightly requested the Senate, and especially the opposition, to help the government enact proper legislation to ensure the disposal of civil cases within two years. The government should show the same approach at other forums and should convince the opposition that it is indeed serious about reforming the justice system.

Besides the significance of contemporary legislation, the role of the bench and the bar in the justice system cannot be ignored. Legal or institutional reforms can be productive only if the bench and the bar both play their due roles. It is imperative for the government to engage with the bar associations to curtail incidents like lawyers abusing judges or locking up courtrooms, or the police firing water cannons as protesting lawyers turn violent. This is no time for news items like: ‘Lawyers show the police who the boss is in Faisalabad’ or ‘Lawyers’ brutal violence on sub-inspector in sessions court’ etc.

Bar associations should be coming out for the rights of young lawyers, against slow courts proceedings, adjournments, lengthy cause-lists or for the rights of poor litigants. Lawyers groups should be convinced to advocate restraint from day-to-day strikes and strikes on very petty and irrelevant issues.

Similarly, the government should also sit with the judiciary to chalk out ‘priorities’ and to search solutions to issues such as why civil cases take 40-50 years and criminal cases up to two decades to see any results. Why has the number of pending cases in the Supreme Court doubled in the last five years? And why are over 1.8 million cases pending? Why is the justice system unsuccessful in ensuring cheap, accessible and speedy justice to everyone? Why have successive governments failed to introduce cogent judicial reforms? Can the pendency issue be solved by increasing the number of judges or is the question of quality also vital? Ostensibly, in the last few years, the role of the bench and the bar could have benefited the administration of justice, if their prospective role was potentially utilised.

Now, on January 7, the military courts will stand repealed, but the government’s promises for reforming the justice system stand unfulfilled. Today, after four years of the APS incident, due to the unmatched sacrifices of the Pakistani people, our security forces, the police and especially the people of the tribal districts, peace has reasonability returned to the country. But for permanent peace, the government should ensure cheap and speedy justice for everyone, because the path of justice is towards peace and injustice is equal to violence. There can be no justice without peace and there can be no peace without justice.

For an end to violence and to achieve durable peace in the country, the government should ensure cheap and speedy justice for every citizen of the country. This is possible only if the government introduces timely, cogent and practical legal and institutional reforms, and stays away from taking temporary measures.

The writer is a Peshawar-based lawyer.

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