Model Courts – a renewed hope for Pakistan’s judicial system
In the midst of the ostensible judicial-executive confrontation these last few years, the judiciary in Pakistan has increasingly been criticized for not setting its own house in order, whilst interfering in realms beyond its jurisdiction. It is said that issues of water shortage and sanitation, quality of medical care, school fee and eligibility (or otherwise) for membership of the national legislature, taken up with much fervour by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the recent past, have diverted necessary and requisite judicial attention from the more pressing and local malaise afflicting the judicial system: excessive delay.
According to the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (LJCP), around 1.8 million cases are pending determination by courts of law, some of which were instituted decades back. Litigants in these cases commit a large part of their lives pursuing a judicial decision, which according to reports may take up to 25 years before it is finally delivered by the top most court of the country. Others are acquitted posthumously, after dying of natural causes while in custody. It is no surprise then that the World Justice Project, Rule of Law Index, which measures public perception and experience of the rule of law ranked Pakistan 117 of 126 countries in the world, and amongst the lowest performing countries regionally in South Asia.
Encouraged by the success of the initiative, the Chief Justice has decided to replicate the model on the civil side. He recently announced the establishment of Model Civil Appellate Courts and Model Trial Magistrate Courts.
Sahar Zareen Bandial
The judiciary has on occasion acknowledged its failure to provide expeditious justice, both in its judgments and in public addresses by its senior judges. The factors leading to delay in the judicial process and recommendations to tackle the menace have been identified and discussed time and again by both judicial and non-judicial bodies, but little has been done, until now, to put these prescriptions to practice.
In March this year, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa launched the “Expeditious Delivery Initiative -I” (as it is formally referred to), under which 110 Model Criminal Trial Courts (MCTCs) were set up across the country with the mandate to decide pending murder and narcotics cases in accordance with a stipulated schedule. The timelines prescribed under existing rules of civil and criminal procedures, often flouted by litigants and judicial officers alike, have in the past largely proved insignificant in addressing the problem of delay. However, with a zero tolerance policy for adjournments and procedures in place to ensure timely production of witnesses, the MCTCs have, quite surprisingly, decided over 5000 cases within a period of 2.5 months. The figures furnish some hope that with appropriate interventions, the judicial system in Pakistan may be mended.
Encouraged by the success of the initiative, the Chief Justice has decided to replicate the model on the civil side. He recently announced the establishment of Model Civil Appellate Courts and Model Trial Magistrate Courts, which shall also operate on strict timelines, and through the adoption of certain pre-trial procedures shorten the duration of trials. The Chief Justice may very well have successfully set the judiciary on overhaul track. The judicial will to continue, and enforce this reformist agenda must remain unwavering if meaningful and lasting gains are to be made. A worrying proportion of the Bar – the community of lawyers – has, mostly through disruptive means, opposed the more structured procedures put in place in the MCTCs. The Bar therefore must be brought on board the judicial reform programme.
It is also important to note that timelines alone are not a panacea to the problem of delayed justice in our legal system, to which various other factors also contribute. The judiciary is overburdened. In a speech delivered earlier this year, the Chief Justice noted that 3000 judges in our legal system cater to a population of nearly 220 million people and are tasked with handling around 1.8 million cases. The Government must direct political will and resources to support a larger judiciary, while at the same time developing and encouraging more formalized and regulated modes of alternative dispute resolution. The calibre of judges has an impact on both the quality and expeditiousness of the justice they deliver. The administrative branch of the judiciary must ensure meticulous selection, zero-tolerance for corruption and continued training and education of judges. The executive and the judiciary will have to work together to evoke more confidence in the judicial system of Pakistan, which must impart both expeditious and substantive justice. A robust judicial system is essential for the rule of law, and for the legitimacy and eventual survival of a country’s political system.