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July 16, 2020

Shortage of judicial officers in Punjab: LHC for enhancing retirement age in lower courts

Peshawar

July 16, 2020

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) registrar has written a letter to the Punjab chief secretary asking him to enhance the retirement age of the members of the district judiciary from 60 years to 63 years to meet the “acute shortage” of judicial officers in the province.

This office is facing acute shortage of judicial officers due to their less induction in the service, the letter dated July 9 a copy of which is available with The News said. At present, it said, the retiring age of the judicial officers of the district judiciary is 60 years and after attaining this age the judicial officers are rapidly superannuating.

LHC Registrar Bahadar Ali Khan, who is also senior district and sessions judge, wrote in the letter that he has been directed [obviously by LHC Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan] to ask the chief secretary to enhance the age of the officers of the district judiciary from 60 years to 62 years in order to overcome the shortage of the judicial officers.

Of the total 142 district and sessions judges, thirty-six are heading the subordinate judiciary in as many districts of Punjab. The remaining judicial officers are working in different positions in the LHC or presiding over a large number of accountability courts, consumer courts, anti-narcotics courts, anti-terrorism courts, banking courts etc., which have been established by the federal government.

On receiving a requisition, the chief justice recommends a panel of judges for appointment of one of them to every such court by the president of Pakistan through a summary received from the federal law ministry.

The federal government has no power to directly hire any district and sessions judge for any such body.

According to the LHC record, there are a total of 1,748 judicial officers of all categories. Of them, as many as 142 are district and sessions judges, 506 are additional district and sessions judges, 105 are senior civil judges and 995 are civil judges.

The additional district and sessions judges and civil judges are periodically recruited by the LHC through the examination.

The Supreme Court last week ordered the federal law secretary to immediately seek instructions from the government for setting up at least 120 accountability courts to clear a huge backlog of cases.

It expressed dismay over pendency of 1,226 references since the year 2000 as well as vacancies in five accountability courts.

“The whole purpose of making of accountability law apparently seems to be rendered futile if the courts are allowed to remain vacant,” Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed regretted.

At present, there are a total of 25 accountability courts in Islamabad and the four provinces. Of them, nearly half of them are functioning in Punjab.

If and when the federal government will establish 120 additional accountability courts as directed by the apex court, at least ninety such courts would be required to be set up in Punjab. This means that ninety district and sessions judges would have to be spared for this assignment, which, given the present number of judicial officers of this category, would not be possible.

Of the current district and sessions judges, eight are retiring after attaining the age of superannuation of 60 years during the ongoing year. Likewise, twenty-six judges would retire in 2021.

Under the prevailing constitutional and legal arrangement, the members of the district judiciary retire at the age of 60 years as civil servants do, the high court judges superannuate at the age of 62 years and the Supreme Court justices retire at the age of 65 years.

Meanwhile, some fifty district and sessions judges are expected to be placed in grade 22 in case of implementation of a decision to move them to the highest pay scale. Most of remaining district and sessions judges are yet to complete the minimum period of seven years while serving in this position in grade 21.

A majority (over eighty) of the district and sessions judges has been directly recruited as additional district and sessions judges while the remaining were hired as civil judges, who have reached this category through promotions.

Most of the civil judges, who have become district and sessions judges, retire even before becoming the district and sessions. Even if they reach this level, they are unable to serve this post for seven years, the minimum timeframe needed to get promotion to grade 22 as per the latest decision.

At the federal level, different proposals are being mooted in official quarters to decide the new retiring age of civil servants.

Views differ. No firm decision has been taken as yet. One proposal is to scale down the superannuation age to 55 years.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government in 2019 increased the retirement age of civil servants to 63 years saying that the move would save the huge retirement benefits. But in February this year, the Peshawar High Court (PHC) voided the act.

The KP administration had made the law in response to a federal government letter, seeking its input. However, the Punjab authorities had refused to adopt this policy.