Saturday June 25, 2022

Timely justice

December 04, 2021

When the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) started arresting almost all prominent members of only one major political party, the honourable courts, during their bail appeals, saw it as political victimisation and ordered their release on bail.

It is perhaps because of such witch-hunts for political gains combined with rampant corruption, misgovernance and human rights violations that Pakistan has been rated among the world’s worst countries in the provision of timely justice to its people.

It is painful to note that as per a recent report of the National Judicial Data Group, hundreds of thousands of cases are pending only in district and sessions courts across the country. Close to two million cases await decisions in high courts, and the Supreme Court has slightly over fifty thousand cases on its pending list. The main reasons for this shocking state include the insufficient strength of judges, complicated rules of procedures, and unfortunate delaying tactics by those accused in connivance with their legal aids. Besides, the system for the selection of judges leaves much to be desired.

There is no formal grooming or training for newly inducted judges in judicial academies to teach them legal ethics and moral codes which need to be adhered to during various court proceedings. The main reason for our present sad state is the inefficiency of successive governments that failed to introduce far-reaching judicial reforms, which should have started from changing our present merciless thana culture based on the 1861 Police Act. An English statesman and former British prime minister William E Gladstone had famously once remarked, “Justice delayed is justice denied”.

It is unfortunate to note that today it is not only ordinary people who are bitterly criticising our current judicial system and crying hoarse for timely justice but, surprisingly, some retired judges are also coming up with shocking allegations and counter-allegations which have shaken people’s trust. These allegations merit thorough forensic analysis and in-depth probes to punish the culprits responsible for defaming our honourable courts.

Our judicial history is unfortunately painful. Justice Munir invented the infamous law of necessity to justify the dissolution of the constituent assembly. Justice Nasim Hasan Shah admitted on state television that the execution of former prime minister Z A Bhutto was a judicial murder. Justice Irshad Hasan, when he was the chief justice of the apex court, ‘illegally’ allowed a military ruler to amend the constitution. Recently, former chief judge of Gilgit-Baltistan Rana Shamim blamed former chief justice Saqib Nisar for allegedly partial conduct.

These allegations must be thoroughly probed to vindicate our superior judiciary and to restore public confidence in their fair conduct. It is also a fact that many irregularities in the functioning of our judicial system were committed with the full backing of different governments. This exposes the real worth of the top executives in the corridors of power.

There are a few recommendations that the authorities should consider to deal with the current problems. First, steps should be taken to enhance the strength of judges, make their selection system transparent and based on merit, preferably through an autonomous Federal Public Service Commission. There is a need to establish autonomous academies for lawyers’ formal training and grooming on appointment and also periodically through different refresher courses.

Second, since serving chief justices have always enough on their plates, the Law and Justice Commission should also be headed by an independent body. Third, we need to pass laws to introduce the panchayat system and enforce an effective Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism as presently in vogue in many countries including the US as per its ADR Act 1998. Australia, India, Japan, Egypt, and Bangladesh have amended their laws to accommodate the ADR system.

Fourth, judicial reforms must ensure that courts exercise ‘judicial restraint’ in their suo-motu jurisdictions. Fifth, inter-court appeals in high courts may be taken out after due deliberations.

Sixth, Shariah courts may be merged with high courts as special benches, like Shariat appellate courts in the Supreme Court, to use their true potential more effectively. Last, we must remove the prevalent ills in our infamous thana culture and also make ombudsman courts at district levels more potent.

The writer is former chairman Senate Standing Committee on Defence Production.